It's cliche, but that usually means there's some truth: the playoffs are just different. And in game one of the Bulls quest for a title it was slowly-paced, highly-intense, and pretty damned physical.
I was impressed with the Pacers' competitiveness and toughness throughout. I think a lot of it could be that their bigs are the right combination of strong yet slow that even if they aren't trying to be outright goon-ish it turns out that way. (Except Jeff Foster, he knows what he's doing in the goon department) But as many hits as they were giving to Derrick Rose and anyone else who went into the lane (as well as running Rose through screens on defense), I didn't think any were especially dirty. To me 'dirty' means it's not a basketball play, and these guys were playing basketball, just so slow compared to Rose that it almost looked like a different game.
Rose took it all in (fast, magnificent) stride, going an astounding 19-21 from the line on his way to 39 points. Amazingly you could see where the game could've gone even better for him if he caught a few more breaks: not every foul was called, and for a stretch in the 2nd half his finishes were just rimming out which could've been more and-ones than the 2 FTs. He went 0-9 from three (and yes, two were end-of-quarter heaves) but he thankfully abandoned that shot in the 16-1 Bulls run to close out the game.
Rose was at his best at the end, but also when the game started. If not for a few very highly-difficult shots, and Joakim Noah rebounding awful misses from the perimeter, the Bulls could've seen themselved in an even bigger hole at the end of that 1st quarter. Of course, Noah's ability to control the glass isn't random, and the Bulls huge offensive rebounding edge was a needed advantage all game. Noah didn't have the best day but his 8 offensive boards were huge, and looked like his old self at points either doing that or filling the lane on the fast break, or his spectacular two blocks in the Pacers final try.
It was a bit curious to see Noah only wind up with 30 minutes in the game considering he was not in foul trouble. Thibodeau went to Kurt Thomas relatively early (3:47 remaining in the first, along with the usual Brewer-for-Bogans sub) and relied on him heavily throughout, over 24 minutes as he spelled Noah and Boozer (who was in foul trouble in both halves). As mentioned, the Pacers bigs are slow yet strong, so this is a fine matchup for using Thomas, and he went 3-4 from the field with 3 offensive rebounds of his own, the biggest one coming in the final minute of the game. Roy Hibbert started the game very well yet only finished with 11, and Thomas had something to do with that as well. KT also knocked Tyler Hansbrough temporarily out of the game in what probably was a bit dirty, if only because I refuse to believe Thomas doesn't know exactly where those 'bows are going at all times at this point of his career.
Thomas aside, a majority of the role players did not have a good day. Korver had a huge three to give the Bulls the lead, and was 4-4 from deep (much-needed considering the rest of the team was 2-16), but also had two bad turnovers where he was blatantly stripped. Bogans was a zero, Taj couldn't do much to slow Hansbrough when Boozer failed, Asik barely played, Brewer made some poor choices on the break, and CJ Watson combined the timidness of passing wide-open shots with the brashness (or worse) in jacking up a three when seeing he was coming out in the 2nd half. The 'bench mob' as a unit has slipped a bit in recent weeks and Game One was another instance where they didn't provide the positive +/- stint we've grown accustomed too. Combining that with Thibs' veteran-reliance with Thomas, and the nature of playoff rotations, maybe we'll be seeing less and less of this unit. Though it didn't help their cause that Thibs was in a situation where his Bulls were behind nearly all game.
Back to the rest of the Bulls big four, first with the good: Luol Deng had a pretty poor first half where he was forcing runners and bricking jumpers (again, luckily Noah was cleaning up well) but he did a great job making Danny Granger look worse. And even in the second half when Granger got hot, I thought Lu did a well-enough job on someone who can just make tough shots once in a while.
(a nice side-show story of the game was Lu showing some emotion in 'protecting' Rose in the 4th and firing up the crowd. At the time I was pretty pissed off at what was a dumb mistake (not just talking to Hansbrough but pushing him) in a very tight game. It was still stupid, and while it correlated with the Bulls going on the huge run to finish off the Pacers I won't believe it did anything productive. However, since they did wind up winning, it was neat to see Lu getting in the game like that)
Granger's 3-point shooting looked downright lucky, and kept the Pacers from fending off the Bulls charge for most of the second half. As a team, the Pacers showed a bit of luck from downtown finishing 10-18 when during the season they shot 35%. But some of those looks were indeed open, and what I thought wasn't luck at all was how often the Bulls defense looked slow in initial and secondary efforts, whether it was Rose slow to catch Collison around screens, or Boozer being late to close out on Tyler Hansbrough, and often turned right back around when he did get there.
Boozer was terrible. We've heard the warnings about playoff Boozer (and it's a bit unfair if you look at his non-Lakers performances) and we saw both the awful defense (simply. not. moving.) and an inability to get clean looks inside against a tall but not overwhelming Pacers front line. The way Hansbrough abused him (primarily. Hansbrough was also having success against Gibson and Noah) was startling, and Boozer combined lazy play with stupid play, especially on a foul of a breaking Hansbrough that he had no chance of stopping the basket (and worse, if he did make more contact it would've been a clear flagrant).
It was at that point where I became actually worried, as I knew Rose would take over for the Bulls but it was possible that the Pacers would keep scoring themselves and the Bulls would run out of possessions. But in the final few minutes Hansbrough missed a fairly easy shot in the lane, Collison a wide-open jumper from the free-throw line, and the Pacers offense was soon shut down to where they were just throwing the ball to Granger and hoping for the best. If you don't attack the Bulls weak points (and not just that, but make them stop two or three actions a possession) they'll bottle you up. They're pretty good.
I had figured that kind of dominance would appear far earlier in the game, and it's a bit of a concern that it took until the final few minutes. Though as I said, some of it was Pacer luck we're unlikely to see again, and I'm always eager to blame nearly everything on an early start time. But while it's thrilling to see Derrick Rose take over a game, him scoring nearly 40 and controlling every late possession shouldn't become a necessity, especially in round one.