The Indiana Pacers have played the Chicago Bulls hard. Sometimes they've also played the Bulls dirty. The result is that, while the Bulls hold a 3-1 lead in the series, all the games have been close and have come down to the final few possessions.
Pacers' forward Danny Granger has received some well-deserved national attention and performed admirably, averaging 22 points and 6 rebounds in the series. Second-year point guard Darren Collison has turned some heads with a brilliant 17-point 9-assist game 1 and then showed his toughness by quickly returning from a nasty ankle sprain suffered in game 2. Role players like guards A.J. Price, Mike Dunleavy and Dahntay Jones have all had their moments. Lastly, the Pacers big men, Jeff Foster, Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough have played physical defense and somehow managed to only have their thuggish flagrant fouls called via long distance.
I salute all things Pacers...players, coaches, front office and fans. You've exceeded expectations.
It's been a real slice, but...
It's time for the Indiana Pacers to get the hell out of my playoff world. Frankly they're starting to kill my Bulls buzz and I don't appreciate it. The games have gotten progressively uglier with total points scored going from 203 and 186 for the 2 games in Chicago to 172 and 173 for the 2 games in Indy. In games 3 and 4 combined, the Bulls shot 38.3% from the field and the Pacers shot 38.6%. If allowed to continue, this could set NBA basketball back decades.
It's also getting dangerous out there, although only if you're on the Bulls. While it's not unprecedented for an NBA player to have an ordinary foul retroactively turned into a flagrant foul by the league office, I'm pretty sure that the Pacers' Foster broke new ground in game 3 by having two fouls in the same game transformed into flagrants by Commisioner David Stern's video watchdogs. Most impressive.
One of those, a vicious and completely purposeful elbow-whip off the top of Bulls' foward Luol Deng's shiny head, could have warranted ejection. The other, a smack in the face of Bulls' superstar Derrick Rose, was notable because Pacers' forward Hansbrough flagrantly-fouled Rose even more egregiously than did Foster. Hansbrough somehow got away clean in the game and afterwards.
Perhaps Hansbrough's apparent diplomatic immunity emboldened the Pacers' McRoberts (people get him and Hansbrough mixed up all the time) who decided that Rose's dunk in the second quarter of game 4 warranted a forearm to Rose's face as Rose went back on defense. Darned if he wasn't right...the referees on site somehow missed this.
Honestly, I don't blame the Pacers for trying to instill in the minds of Bulls' players, and particularly Rose, the thought that, if you go strong to the basket, we will make it a painful experience. I mean, I read all about Pavlov's dogs and such in high school. I can also appreciate McRoberts' thinking that a punk move like that dead-ball forearm shiver might just be enough to get Rose to retaliate and maybe they'd both get thrown out of the game...a decidedly favorable exchange for the Pacers. The Pacers are just trying to win...any way they can.
Again, kudos to the Pacers, this time for their indomitable and unprincipled competitiveness. However, the fact remains that the Pacers don't belong in the second round of these playoffs and the Bulls do. Both teams have places to go and people to see. In the Pacers' case, it should be home to their families.
Tomorrow night the two teams will face off at Chicago's United Center. Rose, who sprained his ankle in game 4, is expected to play. Deng's headache should just about be gone and Bulls' star forward Carlos Boozer is so overdue that he should be about ready to burst.
The Bulls have yet to play a good all-around game in this series and certainly the Pacers have had a lot to do with this. Look for the Bulls to come out of the gate fast, forcing the action and taking the ball to the rim at every opportunity. Look for the Pacers to foul...early, often and of course, hard. On defense, I don't see the Bulls doing anything tricky...just well.
Unlike the previous 4 games, the Bulls will take control of this one in its early stages and won't let go. They'll do this because they're clearly the better team and because, like the rest of us, they know that it's time for Indy to get back to auto racing.
Bulls 103 - Pacers 85.