Just as we were beginning to wrap our collective heads around this new Bulls team that "struggles" to win games, Chicago takes its show on the road to Conseco Fieldhouse.
As discussed in the recap for Game 2, these next two games should be fascinating for multiple reasons:
The Development Of This Team
The transition to the playoffs for these Bulls has been not unlike a high schooler moving on to college. Big man on campus during the regular season, Chicago has not performed up to the lofty expectations of themselves, not to mention media and fans so far in the second season. Theories abound as to why, such as: Rose is over-dominating the ball and thus hindering the offense (ludicrous), Carlos Boozer is terrible (some evidence to support this), flukey bad play, with poor shooting in Game 1 and an inordinate number of turnovers in Game 2 (hmmm), and finally, that the Bulls are still adjusting to playing with a shortened rotation (bingo).
Bench Mob No More
Covered at length by your friendly BullsBlogger, the Bulls rotation has changed drastically from the one we had come to know in the regular season. While it is generally a given that coaches shorten their rotations in the playoffs, nobody ever thought to consider that the Bulls would struggle to make the adjustment. However because Chicago was one of the league's deepest teams, and moreover because Thibodeau had so clearly defined everyone's roles, the Bulls have had to change more than almost any other team.
When the punditry said that the Bulls hadn't been to the playoffs before, I, and many like me, scoffed at the notion. After all, Derrick Rose has been through two brutal first round series, Luol Deng saw the 2nd round in 2006, Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer had all been as far as the Western Conference Finals with Utah and lest we forget the ageless Kurt Thomas, who has seen and heard all the playoffs have to offer.
But this team had never been to the dance together. Players come and go, coaches get hired and fired like I change television channels, but it seldom happens all at once. After adding seven free agents and a brand new coaching staff, the Bulls didn't just roar out of the gate. They started 9-8, at which point roles were set, the team jelled, and they took off to a 53-12 finish.
What we're watching now is the mini-version of that, as the Bulls transition from two clearly-defined lineups to more of a plug-and-play rotation based on matchups. The truth is, the Bulls are lucky to have won both of these games against the Pacers. But I wouldn't worry, because every game further they go in the postseason is another chance to get comfortable in their playoff roles. And if and when they do figure it out together, we will be back to seeing the kind of play that defined a top-seeded team's season.
Injuries And Adjustments
Darren Collison tweeted himself that his sprained left ankle, suffered after tripping over a Timberland-wearing cameraman underneath the basket at the United Center, is feeling much better. The official report is that Collison is "day-to-day", and Pacers coach Frank Vogel is optimistic he'll be able to play. If he doesn't, the Pacers are in big trouble. With Collison on the floor, the Pacers are +6.9 points per 100 possessions. Without him on the floor, Indiana is -16.7. Ouch.
For the Bulls, Ronnie Brewer seems the most injured of any Bulls player, with a left thumb injury that he visibly favored multiple times in games 1 and 2. While he's not much of a shooter anyway, it does seem like the injury has taken away some of his aggressiveness, which is one of the best parts of his game.
Noah has shown great energy in the playoffs, and really the only thing that even reminds you that he recently sprained his ankle is Thibs' insistence to play him less than 30 minutes a game. As he has been one of the best Bulls' not named Derrick Rose so far, let's hope his role increases.
The Bulls finished the season 26-15 on the road including a 1-1 split at Conseco Fieldhouse, although it is fair to point out that the win was over coach Jim O'Brien and the loss occurred against Frank Vogel. Vogel has been an impressive coach to watch, and he has his players busting their butts to compete against Chicago. For both how the Pacers perform with the expectations of a home crowd and how the Bulls respond to the us-against-the-world mentality, Game 3 should have an entirely different feel right from the beginning.
- Road Booze - The collective anxiety at the United Center every time Carlos Boozer misplayed the ball on Monday night was enough to make me sit on my hands at home. With the focus off of him at Conseco Fieldhouse, he needs to have another solid game to help open things up for the rest of his teammates. To his credit he has been the most entertaining personality on the floor, from yelling "AND ONE!" every time a foul is called for the Bulls, to his new "I made a good play" head bobble, to the absolutely hilarious "GIMME THAT S***!" that he yelled while going for a rebound in Game 2. I fell off my couch when that happened.
- Rose for 3 - Derrick Rose has not shot well from outside in the playoffs, going 2-14 from behind the arc. ESPN writer John Hollinger noted that Rose's shot looks flatter than normal and I would have to agree. The Bulls will need to hit threes to keep defenses honest, but better if Rose keeps his attempts to around three instead of the nine like in Game 1, especially with Korver seeing so many more minutes in the same lineup.
- Pacers Pride - Credit where credit is due, Indiana has played inspired basketball. Paul George's late-game dive and scramble on Wednesday was a fantastic hustle play and indicative of the effort the Pacers have put forth all series. Were it not for a complete lack of end-of-game scoring options, things might look quite different right now.
Tip-off at Conseco Fieldhouse is at 6:00 CDT, with the broadcast on NBA TV nationally and CSN Chicago locally.
For live updates, analysis and occasional snark, follow Zachary Lee on Twitter: @rightfieldsucks