Round 1: Bulls wrestle series away from Pacers

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Round 1: Bulls wrestle series away from Pacers

Tuesday, April 26, 2011Posted: 10:00 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

This was more like it.

Even with Derrick Rose ailing, the Bulls got back to the formula that won them 62 regular-season games and put the eighth-seeded Pacers in their place, mauling them, 116-89, Tuesday night at the United Center to win their first-round series, 4-1.

The important thing is just getting the win. We try not to get caught up in all the other stuff, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We knew we were capable of playing better, but when you look at the series, to be up 3-1, youve got to do a lot of things well, too.

In the playoffs, every win is hard to get. Youve got to earn them. I liked our mentality today.

WATCH: Thibodeau's postgame comments

Recovering their regular-season mojo, the Bulls jumped out to a 12-2 start, blitzing the Pacers with the transition game that had been missing the entire series.

While Joakim Noah (14 points, eight rebounds) played a major part in the early run and other starters also contributed, a heartening sign was the bounce of Rose (25 points, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, six assists), who slashed his way to the basket and pushed the tempo for his team as if his sprained left ankle wasnt an issue.

"Thats what I love about him," Noah said. "Hes just a competitor and he wants to win more than anythingmore than the MVP and everything thats thrown at himthats the beauty of it.

At the end of the day, hes somebody that you never have to worry about competing. Thats a beautiful thing because I dont feel like every superstar player in the NBA is like that. I think thats a rare thing and hes got it. Thats why hes a special kid.

Although Indiana didnt let the lead balloon further, Chicago maintained its early intensity, particularly Noahhis grandfather coming in from Cameroon to attend the game might have been a factorwho was a whirling dervish throughout the first quarter and sparked his teammates collective hustle with his constant energy, underrated offensive capabilities and inside presence.

It feels amazing, man. I feel really lucky to be in this position right now and Im very happy, but Im not satisfied, said Noah. They dont have places like the UC where his grandfather, Zacharie Noah is from.

Just having him around and just being able to spend a little time with him, it means so much.
Joakim Noah: I'm cherishing every moment

Fellow starter Keith Bogans, who hit two first-quarter three-pointers, thought the Bulls came out with a lot of fire.

We had a lot of energy tonight," he said. "We fed off of Jo tonight. he came out hyped up, ready to play and the crowd was in it.

Aided by the complementary scoring of Luol Deng (24 points, 3-for-5 three-point shooting, six rebounds, seven assists), the Bulls regained their double-digit edge to lead, 36-25, after the opening period.

You cant say enough about Luol. Just put him in the book every night, praised Thibodeau. You can count on him. Hes the glue of the team, he keeps us together through everything.

Despite some early foul troubleBoozer picked up two quick fouls and both backup Taj Gibson (10 points, seven rebounds) and Noah were also saddled with a pair eachthe Bulls kept a firm grip on the games momentum in the second quarter, as the Pacers only consistent offense against Chicagos stingy defense came from leading scorer Danny Granger (20 points, six rebounds).

WATCH: Mak Legend's 'Madhouse on Madison' featured in Game 5

Still, it wasnt all smooth sailing for the Bulls, as both Boozer and Noah accumulated their third fouls midway through the period and the Pacersspecifically Windy City villains Tyler Hansbrough (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Jeff Fostermanaged to do damage on the offensive glass.

Early in the second quarter, Boozer suffered a right-toe injuryduring the sequence in which he scored his only basket of the nightadding to a frustrating series for him individually.

Well just see how it goes every day, try to get the pain out of it. Great deal of pain, but well work on it and Ive got until the next round, said Boozer, who said a postgame X-ray was negative for the injuryhe said he didnt know what its called, but didnt object to it be described as turf toe by reportersand only played limited minutes after getting into further foul trouble early in the second half.

I said to Thibodeau, If you need me, Ill be out there and Ill try to gut it out for the rest of the game.

Overall, however, this was the Bulls team fans were accustomed to seeing, with stifling defense, a variety of offensive weapons, crisp execution and opportunistic tendencies, especially when transition chances presented themselves.

We kept our pace up, played a more up-tempo type game, guys were getting to their spots quicker, knocking down shotsKyle and Keith, Lueverybody, said Rose. Jo, with his emotion, got us excited and we tried to use that to win this game.

Even with the development of Rose netting a charging foul, his third, late in the period, Chicago went into the break with a 54-46 advantage.

After the underappreciated Bogans (15 points, 5-for-7 three-point shooting) got the Bulls off to a solid start after the intermission, Roses fourth foul came quicker than expected and things quickly derailed for the home team. A 7-1 Pacers run cut the deficit from double digits to a two-possession game, forcing Thibodeau to make Roses stint on the bench a short one.

Boozer didn't help matters, picking up his fourth foul, but Roses reinsertion turned things around almost immediately, as the likely MVP knocked down a pair of three-pointers to help Chicago again push the lead to a comfortable margin.

I really had to get the feel of the game. I really didnt go on the court for like two daysdidnt touch a ball for two daysso just getting my rhythm back, explained Rose. My confidence wasnt down. I knew if I had the open shot, I was going to shoot.

No, I wasnt surprised, continued Rose, when asked about Thibodeau subbing him back into the contest. I was actually happy. I told him I wasnt going to foul anymore, but they called one more on me and Im grateful my teammates were able to pull out the game.

Concurred the coach: We just felt like it was going the wrong way and Derrick can play with fouls.

He hit those big shots and basically took it over from the middle of the third to the end of the third.

Rose taking over a game is nothing if not familiar at this juncture of the season, but the fashion in which he did ithitting a trio of third-quarter triples, diving on the floor for loose balls and sacrificing his body, all on a gimpy ankleinspired teammates like Gibson and Bogans to similarly pick up their games.

Meanwhile, Indianas level of frustration grewafter Granger had to be separated from Gibson following a tie-up, backup Josh McRoberts was ejected from the game for going after Noah, who constantly exhorted the raucous United Center crowdand distance between the two teams continued to grow, with the Bulls taking an 84-65 lead into the final stanza.

This series has been hard-fought, said Thibodeau of that confrontation, as well as one just after the final buzzer, when Granger attempted to confront Noah. Heat of the battle stuff. Those guys competed so hard.

The fourth quarter began on a down note for Chicago, as Rose picked up a ticky-tack fifth foul to start the period, making it a question of whether the Bulls could maintain the sizable margin without their leader.

The turnover-prone and scoring-devoid visitorsoutside of Granger and Hansbrough, only veteran reserve swingman Dahntay Jones (10 points) could provide an offensive spark for Indianawere unable to capitalize on the All-Star point guards absence, however, as Deng, Gibson and Kyle Korver (13 points) all helped pick up the offensive slack.

The game waned on and the onslaught continued, as the Bulls refused to let up and the offense kept clicking on all cylinders under the guidance of backup point guard C.J. Watson (six points, seven assists), further confounding and angering Indiana .

By the time Thibodeau filtered out his regularsall to huge ovationsfor the likes of little-used Rasual Butler, the United Center was a celebratory zone, with a late alley-oop converted by high-flying Ronnie Brewer sating the appetites of the giddy audience.

In the end, the game that clinched Bulls first trip to the second round since 2006 satisfied the curiosity of observers who foolishly believed their regular-season dominance wasnt legitimate. The only questions that remained at the evenings conclusion were What ankle? and Who do the Bulls play next?
Check out Rose's postgame comments here

Im speechless right now, said Rose. I really cant believe it and its a great accomplishment.

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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."