CHICAGO (AP) — Defense was a priority for Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls all season. And after the team’s performance in game one against the Indiana Pacers, it’s pretty safe to say that the coach wasn’t happy with what he saw.
Sure, they got 39 points from Derrick Rose and prevailed 104-99 Saturday after wiping out a 10-point deficit with a 16-1 run to close the game, but for much of the afternoon, the Pacers were getting open looks. The pressure was weak, and when Thibodeau reviewed the video, it wasn’t exactly easy on the eyes.
What stood out to him?
“Everything,” Thibodeau said Sunday. “Every aspect from ball pressure, challenging shots, finishing the defense, getting back, getting set. Fourth-quarter defense was a lot different than the rest of the game.”
Expectations are soaring for the Bulls after they breezed through the regular season, winning a league-high 62 games and securing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. The first round was supposed to be little more than a simple exercise on the way to a bigger goal, yet there they were sweating it out right until the end in the opener.
Game 2 is Monday night in Chicago, and if it’s going to be easier, they realize they have to tighten up their defense.
The Pacers gave them all they could handle even though they struggled for much of the season and changed coaches along the way, with Frank Vogel replacing Jim O’Brien. They juggled their rotation, too, and played better down the stretch. Even so, few expected them to push the Bulls, but that’s exactly what they did on Saturday.
“We know we’re a good basketball team,” Vogel said. “We know we can play with this team. We played a great basketball game for 45 minutes. They got the best of us down at the stretch, but we definitely feel like we can compete with this team.”
Ranked 13th in points per game and 26th in field goal percentage during the season, the Pacers were making about half their shots for most of the game against a team that held opponents to a league-low 43 percent. The last few minutes, though, were rough for Indiana.
Besides the late misses, there was a breakdown on Kyle Korver’s tiebreaking 3 in the final minute.
“We had a lot of breakdowns, not only defensively but also offensively,” the Pacers’ Danny Granger said. “It was uncharacteristic of what we wanted to do in that period of the game.”
For most of the afternoon, they were on target, particularly on the perimeter.
The hit 10 of 18 3-pointers, with Granger nailing 4 of 8 and finishing with 24 points.
Tyler Hansbrough hit his share of open shots against Carlos Boozer and whoever else tried to guard him, finishing with 22 points after shaking off an elbow to the ear from Kurt Thomas. Darren Collison hung with Rose in the early going, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the first half, and all of that was enough to make the Bulls cringe.
“Give them space and they don’t feel you, then they’re going to make shots,” Thibodeau said. “They’re a very good offensive team. Over the last three years, they’ve scored a lot of points and they’re healthy now so they have a complete team. You have to be able to make multiple efforts with them. One effort is not going to get it done against them.”
Korver said the Bulls had the intensity, were in the right frame of mind, but needed to play “smarter.” He also credited the Pacers.
“They played a really good game,” he said. “They shot the ball really well. Even shots that we defended well, they made a lot of tough shots. I think over the course of the season, we were really good at loading up for the one-on-one plays. That’s the whole thing about our defense is we kind of load up the floor, keep the ball on one side, keep it there, jump shot, rebound. They spread the floor really well.”
The Pacers, meanwhile, were trying to figure out a way to contain Rose – something few teams have managed to do. Even on a day when his shot wasn’t falling, he still dominated in a big way. It didn’t really matter that he missed all nine 3-pointers and was just 10 of 23 from the field because he hit 19 of 21 free throws. He was driving at will and mostly unfazed by the hits he was taking.
He did have words with Jeff Foster after one foul in the second quarter, and when Hansbrough delivered a hard one against him in the fourth, Luol Deng took exception.
Mild mannered and usually about as stoic as a palace guard, Deng shoved Hansbrough and received a technical foul. Then, he waved his arms and revved up the crowd in a rare show of emotion.
“It was just my reaction,” Deng said. “I felt at that time in the game, they had the lead and were getting whatever they wanted basically. It just happened. Emotionally, I just stepped up.”
Thibodeau wasn’t impressed.
“I think you have to find that balance of playing very aggressively but you also have to be very smart and I think you’ve got to avoid fourth-quarter technical fouls,” Thibodeau said.
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