The Indiana Pacers came into the United Center with a goal for Games 1 and 2 against the first-seeded Chicago Bulls: let Derrick Rose do what he does and let his teammates try to win the game for them by themselves.
After a hard-fought first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarter-finals, the Indiana Pacers barely missed each opportunity to steal a game in Chicago before they head back to the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for Games 3 and 4 of the series.
Rose’s teammates had their struggles offensively. Though, when it counted most, Chicago came through with buckets over the grinding final minutes of each game.
From the start of Game 2, Joakim Noah came out looking like a man possessed; running the floor and chasing down Pacers for blocked shots. He had a solid showing and is looking much more spry since the late games of the season when he was visibly struggling with his hands and timing while recovering from an ankle sprain.
The Bulls needed Noah setting the tone tonight defensively and on the glass, as opposed to trying to get into the rhythym of the game as an outsider.
His athleticism on defense was needed tonight as he came away with loose balls and three shot blocks.
Unlike in the first game, the Pacers did not hit those same contested shots to answer every Bulls’ run with a critical shot of their own. Tom Thibodeau finally made the defensive adjustment to combat Tyler Hansbrough— who torched the Bulls in their previous two meetings. Hansbrough only shot 2-of-12 for the field tonight as Bulls’ defenders were up in his face upon each catch of the ball.
However, the Pacers were beneficiaries of 21 Chicago turnovers. Part of the reason the Bulls were able to dominate the rebounding margin, 57-33, was the fact that the turnovers were so high that there were not as many chances for Indiana players to get defensive rebounds as there otherwise would have been if the Bulls executed their offense to the point where they got up field goal attempts.
Carlos Boozer did get more involved in the offense, after heavy criticism after his passive Game 1 showing, but still had problems with getting established in position to receive the ball in the low-post. Luol Deng also had issues with getting involved in the offense as the Bulls struggled to get into sync.
The lack of flow of Chicago’s offense led to limited assists and multiple give-aways, thus enabling the Pacers to make this game a fight.
Pacers’ wing man Paul George did an excellent job defending Luol Deng tonight, and had an excellent defensive showing— finishing with four blocks and three steals.
The difference in the game might have been the injury to the Indiana Pacers’ point guard Darren Collison, who had to leave the game late in the second quarter after he rolled his ankle after a driving lay-in.
Collison was causing havoc in the lane with his penetration and dishing off to Pacers for open shots until he left the game. A.J. Price was hitting open shots off-the-bench but was not able to match that ability to create for his teammates as Collison had done. So the Pacers went to T.J. Ford to provide the team with some speed and court-vision.
Ford provided them with a spark, and even banked in a three-quarter-court three-point shot as the third quarter expired to knot the game back up, 67-67.
But once again, it was Derrick Rose who the Pacers could not stop in the closing minutes of crunch time.
He scored at will against the Pacers’ defense and thwarted their plans of stopping the Bulls’ offense by shutting down Rose.
And once again, it was Kyle Korver who came up with a huge shot late in the game, as Rose was trapped, by hitting the corner three-pointer to give Chicago the 90-85 lead with barely over one minute left in the game.
Chicago came away with the victory, and the 2-0 series lead, by defeating the Pacers, 96-90, on Monday night.
It is clear that it cannot be the “Derrick Rose Show” if the Bulls hope for this to be a short series. They need to give their best player some help by getting Boozer and Deng established.
Derrick Rose finished with 36 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals in the victory and shot an efficient 11-of-25 from the field.