Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

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Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 10:55 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a loss--albeit a loss in which they led until the game's final minute--the Pacers' confidence might seem a bit misplaced, especially for a team with only one starter (leading scorer Danny Granger) and a handful of veteran reserves with any postseason experience.

The tail end of Indiana's practice at West Side basketball facility A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Sunday afternoon was spirited and, while players were joking and relaxed, (reporters were treated to an impromptu one-man dunk competition by rookie swingman Paul George) there was no mistaking their defiance.

"We are encouraged. We know we're a good basketball team. We know we can play with this team. We played a good basketball game for 45 minutes. They got the best of us down the stretch, but we definitely feel like we can play with this team and we're looking to earn a split Monday night," vowed interim head coach Frank Vogel.

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"I don't think there's a lot of psychology that goes into that bouncing back from Sunday's heart-breaking defeat. We've been playing good basketball for a long time. We're a confident bunch. We expected to play that way. We expect to play that way Monday night."

The 37-year-old's contagious confidence has spread through his entire squad and, while the Pacers certainly don't look at Saturday as a moral victory, it's clear that their last two matchups against the Bulls have them believing that not only could they steal a win from the top-seeded team in the playoffs, but a heist of the entire first-round series isn't out of the question.

"We also believe that we can definitely compete against any team, so it's not just knowing that we've got nothing to lose, we believe that we can compete with any team in this league and when we're all on the same page, we believe we can beat any team in this league, too," said Pacers point guard Darren Collison. "Vogel is real confident. He instills a lot of confidence in everybody on this team.

"He's not just saying it to say it; he believes that, and whenever a coach has that much belief and that much confidence on the court, it carries over to the players."

Realistically, Indiana does comprehend that throwing a scare into the Bulls wasn't enough--to paraphrase the beginning of Granger's amusing ex-girlfriend stalker comparison, "With Chicago, no. With Derrick Rose, no."--even if it took a furious, 16-1 run down the game's final stretch for Chicago to pull off the come-from-behind win.

"That game's over with. Now, we just need to make the adjustments and try to improve," said Granger. "We played okay. We played well enough to win, but we just didn't finish it off. We went back to the film, we looked at a lot of things, made a lot of mistakes. We obviously could have played better, but that being said, we almost had the game.

"We had a really big chance to turn the series because winning the first game on their home court could have really changed the series," continued the small forward. "You're going to win some games, you're going to lose some, but I think when we give teams our best punch, a lot of times, we'll win that game."

Granger, whose pre-series comments about the Bulls going as Rose goes drew a lot of attention, isn't changing his tune about the Pacers' focus heading into Game 2, although Indiana still had no answers for the likely MVP's heroics Saturday.

"We can't give up 39 points, 21 free throws to him again. Those would be losing numbers for us, so that's our main priority right now. We realize they have other players, but our main priority right now is Derrick Rose," said Granger. "I don't know if he's going to score 40 points every game--I mean, he's capable--but that's what it took for them to beat us that time, so this time, if we can limit his effectiveness, hopefully we can come out with the win.

"When we looked at the tape--the final stretch of the game--we had a lot of breakdowns, not only defensively, but on the offensive end and it was uncharacteristic for what we wanted to do during that period of the game," he continued. "We got some good looks. They just didn't go down for us. Then, on the other end, we had a bad defensive lapse, where we gave up the three to Kyle Korver. We kind of messed up on that. Derrick Rose was getting to the basket at will the whole game. He did it in the fourth quarter, the last two minutes. We just couldn't really get a handle on him."

Vogel acknowledged that, upon further review, not as many of the fouls that led to Rose's repeat journeys to the charity stripe were as egregious as he first believed.

"Not a lot of them were bad calls. Most of them were him being aggressive and getting to the basket. We've got to have a wall of defenders every time he comes in there," he said.

Vogel wouldn't divulge any details of the Pacers' planned defensive adjustments, but expect Indiana to employ a trapping strategy to complement the physicality that greets Rose on his forays to the rim.

"We just practiced some different looks that we might throw at Derrick Rose and some of their other guys," said Vogel. "We've got to a better job keeping him out of the paint."

Confirmed Tyler Hansbrough: "We're going to try and keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, and try to contain him a little better and not let him run around the court, and do his thing."

Unlike the widespread perception that guarding Hansbrough is one player's responsibility--more on that to come--the Pacers know they can't leave any lone defender on an island with Rose and are even willing to sacrifice to contain the explosive scorer.

"It's a hard task, but it's not one man's job to do it; it's all five guys on the court. We've tweaked some things," explained center Roy Hibbert. "I could be saying, 'Hey, you know what? I only got one shot in the second half,' but I wanted to be a defensive presence and I was really trying to do a good job with clogging up the paint, helping out as much as possible and just making sure Derrick Rose didn't get any easy looks at the basket."

Regardless of whether it's slowing down Rose or exhibiting more poise in crunch time, the young Pacers know they have to grow up in a hurry. However, they came into the series with a chip on their collective shoulder and after coming so close to bringing in the postseason with a monumental upset, they're not exactly dissuaded from trying to beat the odds.

"I'm not sure if it's confidence or it's just us getting out there and wanting to prove something, that we belong in the playoffs," said Hansbrough. "A lot of people have written us off."

Philosophized Hibbert: "We've got one under our belt now and it's in the moment when things click.

"We'll be able to figure it out when we're in the moment," he continued. "We're disappointed--a loss is a loss--but we know what we're capable of and we're hungrier than we've ever been before. We want a split in Chicago and then go home to Indy and get those wins there. I'm kind of happy this isn't like the NCAA college basketball tournament where this is one-and-done.

"It's going to be a long series; I just want to tell you guys the media that."

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Will the Bulls be able to turn to Rajon Rondo soon?

Will the Bulls be able to turn to Rajon Rondo soon?

It doesn't seem likely but a Rajon Rondo return to the Bulls-Celtics series certainly seems possible, as the injured point guard was launching corner 3-pointers before the start of Tuesday's practice.

Except he was shooting with his left hand, as his right thumb was fractured in the second half of Game 2 in Boston. Game 5 is Wednesday night in Boston, as the Bulls have lost the two games without him and have looked rudderless at point guard.

As of the moment, the Bulls have ruled him out for Game 5 but are noncommittal beyond that, with Game 6 being back in Chicago Friday night.

If he returned it would be a remarkable turnaround considering one of Rondo's teammates called his thumb injury "I've worst I've ever seen in my career", leading to cautious words from Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

"This is honestly the first time he has touched a basketball with that right hand. We'll see how it goes. He's going to continue to condition and do everything he can," Hoiberg said. "Just watching him wince a little bit when the ball was coming to him makes me think it's a longshot.

But if there's anybody who can do it and will try to fight through it, it's Rondo because of the competitor he is."

Rondo said he couldn't grip a fork with his right hand, let alone a basketball when he spoke to the media this weekend, and the official diagnosis stated he would be evaluated between 7-10 days, pushing things right between Games 6 and 7, if it gets to a decisive seventh game in Boston.

It's not just Rondo's wizardry that has people fantasizing about Rondo producing a Willis Reed moment, but the lack of confidence in backups Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams is palpable.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bulls playoff tickets right here]

Hoiberg is going with Isaiah Canaan at point guard for Game 5, after he hit a few shots and defended Isaiah Thomas reasonably well, despite Thomas scoring 33 points Sunday night.

Rondo did a good enough job funneling Thomas near the help defense, but it seems to be a foreign process from anyone else this series. The Bulls' dependency on Rondo's brain is obvious, given everything he's been through; Their seeming reliance on Rondo in the physical form is more than shocking, seeing as how he couldn't do right in their eyes  in December and January.

"He obviously wants to get back out there and is doing everything he can to put himself in that position, knowing that it's still a longshot that that happens," Hoiberg said.

The visual, though, in plain view of camera phones and TV cameras, certainly appeared striking as Rondo still had a brace around his thumb before practice.

"We want that guy back, man, but I don't know if it will happen, if it won't happen, I can't tell you that," said Jimmy Butler, who's had to take on more ballhandling responsibilities in Rondo's absence. "But he's still out here, shooting shots with his left hand from the corner."

Butler then added some levity and perhaps a dose of reality to the moment of optimism.

"He just shot that one right-handed by the way and air-balled it. But we love him, man," Butler said.

The Bulls would need more than just a ceremonial Rondo appearance if he were to return, as he supplied the Bulls with a confidence and swagger that hadn't been seen in awhile and hasn't been heard from since his injury—unless you could the Celtics' brimming confidence with two wins in Chicago to take control back of homecourt advantage.

The Celtics have loaded up on Butler and to a lesser degree, Wade, turning them into facilitators rather than attackers or at least guys who can get an easy basket or two during a game.

Rondo was good for setting those guys up along with taking care of Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, but that responsibility has fallen down the line to players who are just as willing but not as creatively capable as Rondo.

"He's our floor general out there," Butler said. "He knows everything, knows every matchup, every position, and he's still helping over there from the bench, but we really want him healthy and out there for us."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can Bulls bounce back against Celtics?

In the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, CSN's David Kaplan is joined by the Chicago Tribune's David Haugh and the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns to discuss the Bulls falling to a 2-2 series tie with the Celtics.

The guys predict how the first-round playoff series will end and talk about how Isaiah Canaan will fare as the starting point guard in Game 5.

Then, the panel discusses whether Matt Davidson should be in the White Sox lineup more and who will still be playing on the South Side when the White Sox rebuild is done.

Finally, the panel discusses a couple of contract extensions for Pat Fitzgerald and Chris Collins at Northwestern.

Take a listen to the episode below: