As you know, the Bulls had REVENGE on their mind welcoming the Pacers to their home floor on Monday night. The expected demolition was delayed a half, however, and the Bulls opening defensive possession ended with Rip Hamilton hurting his shoulder. Rip's been on a minutes plan as it was with the Bulls still easing him back from his last injury, so this is a true bummer. The only thing making me feel not as bad is that it's hard to consider Rip ever even part of the team in the first place.
But enough about our deceased 'difference making free agent acquisition' for now, I'm sure the Bulls will be annoyingly coy about the injury and we won't know what's what. On to the destruction and embarrassment of the Indiana Pacers.
CJ Watson was already ruled out for the game after his ankle injury the night prior, so after Rip's cameo appearance the Bulls backcourt depth was put to the test. And with nearly every Bull stinking up the first half, it was John Lucas III who kept them in the game, with an improbable 9-point first-half stint climaxing with a steal of (deserved) UC enemy Tyler Hansbrough and a layup. As much as Lucas doesn't really qualify as an NBA player, he has actually shot surprisingly well when left open, including 41% on 3-pointers. Probably so well that it's more of an outlier than anything, but tonight he filled the CJ Watson role well, which is run around and chuck while the rest of the bench mob locks down their opponents.
And though the Bulls did struggle in that first half their defense kept things close in a really ugly and physical contest. It was one of those games where the refs likely could've called fouls on both teams on every possession but instead let them play through a lot of it. Boozer was 1-5, Deng 1-7, and Derrick Rose went 1-9 capping his first half by missing two free-throws. The drives were there but the amazing finishes weren't falling, and credit to Indiana's, ahem, 'physicality' I suppose. And unlike the Philadelphia game, Rose's 3-pt attempts seemed far more forced.
And in the spirit of 'telling the story with the ball in the air' when it comes to Rose' long-range attempts, I thought a few of his 3s in the 2nd half were forced as well. But they went in, and the Bulls surged. And it felt good to no longer have to reason 'well they're playing ugly and only sort of effectively but they're close!' and see an epic 3rd quarter run that pretty much made the 4th irrelevant. Behind Rose and Deng's 3s, and great 2-way play from new starting 2-guard Ronnie Brewer, it was a 33-13 blitz that could've been even worse for Indiana if a few Bulls gimmes at the rim went in. By the end it had the Pacers looking completely shocked and later seemingly demoralized.
Rose was the leader of that run, of course, but it wasn't any kind of statement game from him as he 'only' finished with 13 points and 9 assists. A lot of the credit for tonight goes that other Bulls standby: rebounding dominance. The Bulls had yet another whopping +40% OReb% performance, and Joakim Noah (backing up his talk) was an absolute terror for the more ground-bound Pacers big men, credited with only 4 but seemingly in on every random tip or swat out of a Pacer defender. They also took care of the defensive glass as well in getting over 85% of those chances (Noah with 13), so for a team like the Pacers who's known for their muscle/goonery, and 5th in Oreb% themselves, the Bulls frontcourt really took it to them.
That and their 3-pointers (9-15) was pretty much enough for the Bulls, and outside of that exhilarating 3rd quarter run it really wasn't a really photogenic performance. The fourth got a little weird as the Pacers improved a bit to get a whopping 29 points for the half: some Deng minutes-watching (and wrist-watching...not the Rolex kind), Scal chanting, Noah being forced back in when the lead was down to 13, giant Scal heads being ran through the crowd being a thing now, Hansbrough and Scal exchanging some heated words post-game, a great 'Pacers Suck' chant to finish things off...it may have taken a half to warm up and Rose didn't really personally deliver the promise, but if the Bulls indeed set out to embarrass the Indiana Pacers, then mission accomplished.