Lets caption contest this one, shall we? (Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE)
With Indiana resting Danny Granger, and both teams locked into their playoff seeds, this was a slightly competitive game but definitely didn't feel full-tilt. Maybe it was appropriate that I missed the entire first quarter because my DVR had the extra-innings White Sox game.
So keeping in mind I didn't see Derrick Rose's first stint, I'll say he showed some progress from Saturday in his 26 minutes, but still not at his usual level of play. This is expected, unless you listen to Rose, Tom Thibodeau, or Stacey King. Derrick mostly deferred, and when plays broke down he didn't have his suual superstar ability to generate offense from nothing, shooting poorly (3-11, for 10 points) and getting blocked more than usual. However, he did show some improvement physically. He was attacking the rim more, including his best move near the end of the first half making the shot and taking one from Hibbert (not called). He was able to push the ball in transition a bit, and some of his 7 assists were from drawing attention on penetration, including a couple to Carlos Boozer, who shot extremely well (8-10) tonight.
A few other assists were just from getting the ball in Kyle Korver's hands. Korver was the Bulls leading scorer with 20 points, going 2-6 from three. This may have been the most glaring byproduct of the Pacers personnel and mindset, as they couldn't stay with Korver coming off of screens all night. And, it's of note that Korver again was the closing lineup SG with Derrick Rose while Rip Hamilton sat on the bench. Hamilton got similarly open looks, but missed a lot of them. And he was caught sleeping on defense a few times, something that's often not considered when discussing his acclimation with the team. Maybe it really is Korver's job to lose as the Bulls head into the postseason.
The Pacers showed some lax effort on offense as well, though not nearly as egregious as Neil "settling" Funk made it sound (so excited for the nationally-broadcast playoffs). But there were indeed a lot of Pacer jumpers in a 2nd quarter that started out 1/11 and ended 5/21 and a 13-point halftime deficit. Credit goes to the Bulls interior defense, for both keeping the paint clogged and securing a ridiculous 83% of the defensive rebounds. You may have heard this before, but it's a pretty nice advantage to have Omer Asik and Taj Gibson as backup bigs to keep unrelenting pressure on opposing frontcourts for 48 minutes. And both Noah and Boozer were great working together offensively as well, making the Pacers slow rotations pay nearly as often as Korver did.
It'll still be an open question whether the Bulls depth is mitigated a bit with playoff rotations. The Pacers made a decent run in the 3rd quarter with the starters before Korver got hot again, after which they conceded long before the Bulls relented. Luol Deng was in for a final couple pointless minutes but wound up with only 33 total. It's an obligatory mention. Also, I did observe him trip up on defense and limp a bit in the 3rd quarter, but he soon seemed fine.
So no injuries, which is the biggest key. Another in these final couple games is to get Rose back up to speed, and the team alongside him. That's happening slowly but surely. And they're still winning too.