If this seems inexplicably frustrating to watch, just remember how easily and how often the Bulls won during the regular season. Not to defend Chicago's second straight sub-par performance at home, as on most nights 20 turnovers and 39% shooting equates to a loss, but perhaps we have been spoiled a bit by this team.
The playoffs are another animal altogether and this young team is still trying to understand how to be the favorite. The Pacers have nothing to lose, and their loose, inspired play has put the Bulls on their heels two straight games.
Tonight, it was the Bulls offense that was, well, offensive. Chicago made a concerted effort to involve Carlos Boozer early and often, and indeed he did play better, finishing with 17 points and 16 rebounds. But overall the Bulls were careless with the ball, including the infallible Derrick Rose who had five turnovers in the third quarter alone.
Ultimately Rose, who finished with 36 points, six assists and eight rebounds, did just enough to get the Bulls over the hump. After shooting just over 50% at the free throw line in the first half, Chicago hit their last 16 freebies in the second half. That, in addition to an insane rebounding advantage of 57-33 ultimately earned the Bulls a Game 2 victory.
Luol Deng came through with the two clinching free throws at game's end, something he couldn't be counted on to make until this year. Deng had 14 points, six rebounds and held Pacers number one option Danny Granger to 19 points and two rebounds.
The Bulls bench unit as we knew it is seemingly over and done with as Thibs has shortened his rotation for the playoffs, playing Boozer 42 minutes while Gibson and Asik combined for only 14. Chicago has struggled to score without Derrick Rose in the game, and with Brewer nursing an injured thumb, Asik's minutes nearly cut entirely and Kyle Korver moving into the late-game crunchtime lineup, there really isn't a bench mob to speak of anymore.
It has been interesting to see Thibs' strategic decisions come to light (and to be fair they may change if and when the Bulls move past the Pacers), as Kurt Thomas and Korver have taken on a much more prominent role. For the second straight contest Korver hit a crucial three-pointer for the Bulls in the game's final possessions. The NBA leader in fourth quarter/overtime 3-pointers this season is one of the few Bulls besides Rose who wants the ball with the game on the line. Expect better defensive teams to try and take him away in the games to come, at which point Deng, Boozer or Noah will need to be take, and make shots.
The Pacers must be crestfallen tonight knowing they largely outplayed the Bulls for two games in Chicago and find themselves down 0-2 in the series. Point guard Darren Collison, who exited in the second quarter with a twisted ankle, is day-to-day and represents a huge potential loss for Indiana. Tyler Hansbrough came back to earth with a 2-12 shooting performance, the only other Pacer in double-digits besides Granger was replacement point guard A.J. Price, who also had five turnovers.
Unquestionably, the Bulls defensive effort stifled the Pacers offense, and as the Bulls owned the glass, second chance points were nowhere to be found. Now the Bulls must iron out the kinks on offense before Game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse on Thursday.
The games in Indianapolis should be fascinating, as the pressure of an expectant home crowd on top of sky-high expectations appeared to affect the Bulls in the series' first two games. Will they loosen up and band together in an us-against-the-world environment? With a hostile crowd (and the swing in foul calls that will accompany it) on the way, the Bulls must return to the form that resulted in 62 regular season wins. And if they don't? See you at the United Center for Game 5.