Leave it to the Indiana Pacers to lead a game for 47 minutes, only to lose it at the end.
In Chicago, the 2011 NBA playoffs got underway with a game between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers were hot early, and Carlos Boozer was in foul trouble. Aside from Derrick Rose, nobody wearing a Bulls jersey really felt compelled to participate in this one.
The Pacers held a four-point lead at the end of the first quarter and at halftime. They led by eight points heading into the fourth quarter. They had a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, and looked to have the upset in their pocket. Then they remembered that they were the Indiana Pacers, and promptly handed the game over.
Chicago held on to beat Indiana 104-99 to win Game 1 of the series.
MVP front-runner Derrick Rose had a career-high 39 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead Chicago. Rose made 19 free throws in this game, the most in a playoff game since Allen Iverson made 19 in 2002.
Danny Granger led the Pacers with 24, and Tyler Hansbrough had 22, while Darren Collison finished with 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Roy Hibbert added 11 points and eight rebounds, but wasn't much of a factor after scoring Indiana's first six points of the game.
Trailing by 10 points late in the game, the Bulls outscored the Pacers 16-1 over the final 3:38.
The Pacers know this feeling all too well. The last time these two division rivals met in the Playoffs was in 1998 when Jordan's Bulls went up against Reggie's Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. That was arguably Indiana's best team, and they were bitten by Jordan as the Bulls won Game 7 by five points.
Jordan went on to lead his team to another championship, and now those same expectations are being put on Derrick Rose, fair or not.
In all, you couldn't really ask the Pacers to play a better game as a team. Everyone was energized and playing well. The starters and bench players were all filling their roles and then some. Tyler Hansbrough looked like he got knocked out of the game in the second half as he stumbled back to the locker room and almost fell. He then came back to lead Indiana to an even larger lead. He was hitting jump shot after jump shot and frustrating Carlos Boozer to the point of no return.
Hansbrough was also able to get into Luol Deng's head, causing him to get a technical foul for pushing Tyler after he fouled Derrick Rose. The foul wasn't even hard, it just looked odd. Deng took exception though, and was given a technical foul. But it didn't make a difference as Collison missed the free throw.
The Pacers only had 10 turnovers all game, and the crowd was virtually non-existant until the final minute of the game. The Bulls took their first lead with 48 seconds left in the game when Kyle Korver hit a wide open three-pointer from the left wing. The next possession the Pacers were unable to get a good shot, as Granger forced up a 20-foot jumper that missed.
For Indiana, this game pretty much sums up their entire season.
They hang around all game, play phenomenal on both sides of the ball, only to choke away the game at the end. They showed tremendous hustle and effort throughout the entire game. Guys were diving for loose balls and fighting for loose rebounds. They made sure that Chicago wasn't going to just walk all over them.
This game did give the Pacers two positive things in my opinion. First off, they know they can play with these guys, whether it is the Playoffs or not. They are familiar with them and know they have enough to make these games close. They have nothing to lose, so there really shouldn't be any pressure on them.
Also, this is a young team that is needing some postseason experience. This is obviously something that has plagued the team all year, so hopefully we won't be seeing it anymore. They know what they need to fix, now they just need to actually go do it.
After this series concludes, the Pacers will begin a busy offseason. They will have some major contracts coming off the books, with players like T.J. Ford, Mike Dunleavy and Jeff Foster. The front office could see a shakeup as well with Larry Bird's contract coming to an end. He was in attendance for this game and probably enjoyed what he saw, minus those last two minutes.
The media has been making a fuss about Danny Granger's comments before this series started. Granger basically said that he would rather play the Bulls, instead of having to face a team like Boston or Miami. I think every other team in the Eastern Conference would say the same thing.
I would much rather face a young Bulls team with not much experience, rather than a team of veterans that have won a championship. Playing a team with LeBron, Wade and Bosh doesn't sound too enticing either. He never said that the Bulls weren't a good team, but of course it was taken out of context.
In this game there was more crying and complaining from Bulls players than a soccer game. Every time a call went against Chicago, Carlos Boozer felt the need to make a smart comment. Kurt Thomas looked like he was framed for murder on two separate occasions. The Pacers went to the free throw line 17 times, while Chicago had 32 trips. Indiana was also called for more fouls during the game.
If Chicago thought that the Pacers were going to let them win every game by 20 points, then maybe they aren't ready to win an NBA championship.
For a team that has never played an NBA playoff game until today (not counting Granger's six games played as a rookie in 2006) they looked really good. There weren't any butterflies or guys that had the look of stage fright. They were playing on the road against a team with the best record in the entire league and going up against the probable MVP in Derrick Rose and Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau.
This would have been one of the best moments in recent history for the Pacers, having not made the playoffs in the last five years. Indiana will try to shake off this tough loss and try to bounce back with another strong performance in Game 2, which is set for Monday night in Chicago.