CHICAGO (AP) Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls were tested in the first round by the Indiana Pacers, and they passed. Now Rose and Chicago is gearing up for their next test.
That would be Atlanta or Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals, after the Bulls disposed of Indiana in a tough first-round series. It’s the next test in what they hope will be a long playoff run after a dominant regular season.
The opening round certainly wasn’t easy. The Pacers hung in until about midway through the third quarter of Game 5 Tuesday, when the Bulls broke open a tight game and rolled over Indiana 116-89 in what turned into the first blowout of the series.
“It’s really good for us to end this series like this,” Luol Deng said. “We didn’t really want another close game. In the locker room, we know it’s not how you play, it’s whether you win the game. We have adjustments to make.”
The Bulls made major adjustments to get to this point, undergoing a massive overhaul a year ago following back-to-back first-round playoff exits.
With new coach Tom Thibodeau, a rebuilt roster and Rose’s emergence as an MVP candidate, the Bulls stormed to a league-best 62-20 record, matching their best record since the 1997-98 championship season.
Now, they’ve advanced past the first round for only the second time since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen’s second three-peat.
“Last year, we were just saying, ‘How are we going to win this game? Do we have a chance?'” Rose said. “We really didn’t have a chance. This year, we have a chance to win almost every game that we go in.”
Many figured the Bulls would roll through the Pacers. Instead, they got all they could handle, pulling out the first three games by a total of 15 points and seeing a furious rally at the end of Game 4 fall just short.
Now, they’re taking a breather after getting pushed by the Pacers, with no practice scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday.
For all the angst over the slow starts, the turnovers, the physical play and Rose’s sprained left ankle, this is exactly where the Bulls thought they would be – even if getting there was a little tougher than expected.
The Pacers fouled hard. Their big guards gave Rose trouble, trapping him and throwing the offense out of sync. His ankle injury in Game 4 only added to the angst. So did Carlos Boozer’s struggles, and if there’s a concern going forward, that’s a big one.
As if he wasn’t having a tough enough time in the playoffs, another issue surfaced in Game 5 – turf toe. Boozer heard a pop in his right foot when he scored his lone basket in the second quarter and finished with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting. He also ran into foul trouble again, picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter and his fourth in the third. That gave him 19 in the series, and he sat out the final 18 minutes, 17 seconds.
“We have to try to figure out how we can keep him out of foul trouble,” Thibodeau said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you’re picking up two quick fouls like he is right now.”
The Bulls’ big offseason acquisition, Boozer has been out of sync ever since missing five games in March with a sprained left ankle. In his final 14 regular-season games, he hit the 20-point mark just three times and finished with 14 or fewer eight times.
He went from scoring 17.3 points per game in the regular season to 10.0 against the Pacers, and his shooting dropped from 51 percent to 35.8.
Every game in the opening round was a struggle for Boozer except the second, when he delivered 17 points and 16 rebounds. He had 12 points in the opener and four in Game 3, and even when he scored 15 in Game 4, he hit just 6 of 15 shots.
The fouls certainly aren’t helping the cause. It’s hard to find a rhythm sitting on the sideline, and even if he’s not shooting well, he still draws attention from opponents and takes some of the load off his teammates.
“Whoever we play next, I assure you they’re going to plan a lot to stop Carlos,” Deng said. “Carlos is one of the best low-post scorers in this league.”
And he figures it’ll be a different story for Boozer in the conference semifinals.
“Carlos will get going,” Deng said. “If you look at the games, Carlos is rebounding the ball great for us. Every series is going to be different. Carlos is always working hard. He’s always in there early. His rhythm will come. This series, Indiana did a good job sometimes taking his rhythm away, but this is over with. We’ve got to get ready for how we’re going to get him more involved early and get ready for the next series.”
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