So much for that budding rivalry, at least Monday night, justifying the letter, if not the spirit, of Tom Thibodeaus pregame declaration.
After some barbs were exchanged through the media, the Bulls (32-8) backed up their words, demolishing the Central Division rival Pacers (23-13) at the United Center, 92-72, thanks to a huge second half, balanced scoring that saw five players reach double figures and as usual, a stifling defensive effort, for the teams seventh consecutive victory.
Indianas a terrific team and it comes down to multiple-effort plays, and when things arent going your way, youre not shooting well, youve got to find other ways to help your team win and I think we have a lot of guys on our team that do that, said Thibodeau. Our defense and our rebounding. The rebounding was huge. They play hard. Theyre a hard-playing team. they missed some shots that they normally make, but I like the way that our team hung in there. We just found a way to win in the second half.
With all of the build-up prior to the affair, it wasnt surprising that neither team was exceptional at the outset, but it was unexpected that a significant piece on each team would exit the contest early on. One of the featured players in the pregame war of words, Pacers center Roy Hibbert, picked up two quick fouls, and was forced to leave temporarily, while Rip Hamilton appeared to tweak his right shoulder and after heading to the locker room, was replaced by Ronnie Brewer (12 points, seven rebounds), who made an immediate impact with his energetic play.
Indiana wings Danny Granger and Paul George (game-high 21 points), as well as veteran power forward David West, made their presences felt for the visitors, but the Bulls kept pace with Joakim Noah (nine points, 17 rebounds) and Luol Deng (team-high 20 points, six rebounds, four assists) carrying the scoring load, as Derrick Rose (13 points, nine assists), named the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, focused on distributing and playing more of an all-around game.
At the conclusion of the opening period, the hosts held a slim edge, 22-20.
With C.J. Watson out due to a sprained left ankle, John Lucas III (13 points) assumed the backup point-guard role and the never-bashful diminutive reserve not only got on the board, but dominated the scoring action in aiding the Bulls some breathing room.
Thats whats so good about our team. Everybody goes in focused and you stay ready, said Lucas. Like we say, Were all weve got, so one of our teammates goes down, somebodys got to step up.
Thibodeau chimed in: John Lucas did a terrific job filling in, he was ready to go and that gave us a big lift.
Concurred Rose: John is someone that gave us a little bit of energy in the first half and during the second half, just pushing the ball, feeding the bigs and I think everyone just fed off of him.
However, the Pacers had their own backcourt sparkplug off the bench, in the form of offseason acquisition George Hill (17 points), a combo guard and Indianapolis native, who displayed his ability to score in bunches, which he earned a reputation for in San Antonio.
A balanced Pacers attack continued to be effective against the Bulls, though neither team shot the ball particularly well in the defensive-minded second quarter. The hosts were afflicted by ball-security issues and Carlos Boozer, Deng and Rosewho did excel as a playmaker, if not a scorerall struggling with their shooting. However, partially thanks to Brewer and fellow reserve swingman Kyle Korvers outside marksmanship, the Bulls only trailed by a slight margin, 43-42, at the intermission.
We did a good job of rebounding the ball. We played with a lot more energy in the third quarter. Jo was tremendous rebounding. It wasnt really going our way to begin withmissing a lot of shots, guys werent shooting welland in the second half, we just found a way. Got stops, started going out and running, did a good job of rebounding, said Deng.
When we came in at halftime, no one talked about missing shots. We really didnt talk about it at all. We just said we know weve got a lot of guys who can score. It doesnt happen often when everyone is not shooting. Someone is going to get it going. We just really talked about our defense, kind of playing with a lot of energy, like we did in the third quarter and going out and running, getting easy baskets.
Echoed Thibodeau: We made some shots and our defense picked up. Just our energy overall was much better in the third quarter. You have to bring it for all four quarters. We like to count on our defense and our rebounding. Some nights youre not going to shoot as well as others.
Added Noah: We had a great third quarter. Derrick shot the ball very well, Lu shot the ball very well, we played good defense and rebounded the ball well, and it just opened up the game.
After the break, behind Rose beginning to assert himself as a scorer, Brewers energy and scoring and Noahs dominance on the interior, the Bulls gained some separation from the visitors early in the third period.
Additionally, the hosts started clamping down on the defensive end of the court and Deng found his outside touch, leading to a double-digit advantage for the home team, whose fans showed their boisterous appreciation.
Between Rose and Deng, the All-Star duo knocked down five three-pointers in the quarter and with Noah, Brewer and reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots) playing in typically high-energy fashion on both ends of the floor to augment the pairs contributions, as well as stout defense limiting Indianas offensive opportunities, it appeared that rout was on, as the lead continued to balloon.
Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls had earned a robust 75-56 advantage.
Our biggest thing was shutting down the paint and I think that we did a pretty good job of that, just making sure they shot contested twos or whenever they shot, making sure someone put a hand up. Theyre a good team. We just tried to make it hard on them tonight, said Rose of the Bulls approach. We just tried to push it a little bit more when we got the rebound and put a little pressure on them on the defensive side.
Deng added: We were just making silly mistakes with our assignments. Certain plays, were supposed to show on the screen. Certain plays, were supposed to blitz, fronting the post. Stuff like that, just little mistakes and we just locked in, and went over the game plan, just did a good job of doing that.
Defense was again the name of the game in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls completely smothered their guests, maintaining their comfortable lead.
Thibodeau rode his reserves for the bulk of the period, before inserting Noah and Dengthe latter actually saw some time at the beginning of the frame, but admitted, When we kept losing the lead, I knew I was going back in, so I stayed ready, while Thibodeau acknowledged that Rose was warming up in the bullpen and instructed him to stretch in preparationbut the outcome had already been decided well in advance, as the Bulls were on cruise control for the extended garbage time, which featured late appearances by rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, who scored the teams final points of the evening.
It was a good win for us, just coming off a back-to-back. We played very hard tonight. We were excited about this game, said Noah. We handled our business, we played hard tonight and it feels good to win in that fashion.
We played with a lot of passion tonight. Its a good feeling to be playing well, especially because we have a tough stretch coming up and we know whats at stake. To be playing good basketball right now, its rewarding, he continued. The whole team, were on the same page. Were about the right things. Just got to keep it up. I know the citys proud right now. The NBAs all about highs and lows. Just got to keep representing and well be all right.