By Jordan Kabialis
The Chicago Bulls opened up the 2011 NBA playoffs on Saturday afternoon beginning what many Bulls fans hope to be their 7th championship run. The Bulls entered the playoffs with very high expectations after finishing the regular season 62-20 (the first time since Jordan and the Bulls won their 6th ring in ’98) and securing the overall number one seed in the NBA.
22,986 packed the United Center on Saturday for game 1 of the Bulls’ first round matchup with the 8th seeded Indiana Pacers. The Pacers came out ready to play leading the Bulls by four at the half. The Bulls, who were one of the top defensive teams during the regular season, appeared to have no answer for the Pacers offense.
The trend continued in the 3rd quarter as the Pacers extended their lead to eight. Fans at the United Center were visibly frustrated and nervous. Every time the Bulls made a big shot to start to draw closer to Indiana, the Pacers came right back with a response.
The 4th quarter appeared to be more of the same, as the Bulls could just not draw closer to the Pacers. It appeared as if they were about to give up home court advantage to the Indiana Pacers; the team that finished below .500.
But then something happened; something Bulls fans had seen all season; Derrick Rose went all Derrick Rose on the Pacers.
Trailing by 10 with 3:28 left in the game, Derrick Rose took over as the Bulls went on a 16-1 run.
Down by five (94-99) with 1:50 left, Derrick Rose drove to the basket, drawing the and-one. Rose drained the free throw amid the chants of “MVP”, bringing Chicago to within two.
Following a stop on the defensive end, Rose sank a jump shot to tie the game at 99. The crowd was deafening.
Following yet another defensive stop, Rose made another drive towards the hoop as the Pacer defense collapsed around him, leaving Kyle Korver wide open where he drained the go-ahead three. The play looked just like the clutch 3’s that John Paxon and Steve Kerr had back in the ‘90s.
The Bulls would then never look back as they went on to win the game 104-99.
Game 1 was a major scare and Bulls fans were praying that game 2 on Tuesday night would go more smoothly than the first one. I mean, after all, it is the Indiana Pacers. And the Bulls can’t possibly play as poorly defensively as they did and Boozer can’t possibly be that bad again (12 pts, 6 rebounds).
Tuesday night could not come soon enough for a lot of Bulls fans, hoping the Bulls would go out and dominate the Pacers. Fans were looking for a much better defensive effort from the Bulls, a much better performance out of Boozer, and a similar performance out of Rose, who scored 39 points in game 1.
Both teams, especially the Bulls, came out of the gates rather slow, each team not doing a lot of scoring. At the half, the Bulls found themselves trailing yet again 47-44. Bulls fans were thinking, “We couldn’t possibly have another game like Saturday, could we?”
The Bulls continued to look absolutely terrible in the second half as they finished the night shooting just 38.6% from the field and turning the ball over an unacceptable 22 times.
The Bulls found themselves in a close game yet again towards the end of the 4th quarter and, like Saturday, Derrick Rose just wanted it more.
With just over a minute to play and his team up by two, Rose found none other than Kyle Korver who drained another clutch 3 to put the Bulls up by five.
Now, with just 23.4 seconds left and the Bulls still up by five, Derrick Rose got called for fouling a three point shooter. However, Rose never actually touched the guy. A.J. Price was awarded three free throws for kicking his leg out at the top of his jump shot, creating the illusion of being fouled.
Price made all three foul shots to bring the Pacers back to within two.
The Pacers immediately fouled Luol Deng on the next possession who made just 1 of 2 from the line, increasing the Bulls’ lead to three.
The Pacers failed to convert on their next possession and the game was essentially over. After fouling a couple more times, the Bulls went on to win the game 96-90.
The first two games have been a lot closer than both Bulls fans and players would like. Derrick Rose was not satisfied with his team’s play in each of the first two games saying after game 2, “Our play has to get better… We have to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end where we have to try a lot harder. But I feel like we’re going to get things together pretty quickly.”
While it is true that the Pacers are a tougher and better team than people give them credit for, the Bulls have to play better basketball. The Bulls cannot afford to have games where they turn the ball over 22 times and shoot just 38%. While they may be able to just barely get away with it against the Pacers, a team like the Miami Heat will bury them.
The Bulls will have the next two days to get things together before playing game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday night. The game is scheduled to start at 6:00pm and will be broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.