NBA fans and experts may be surprised to see an exuberant Pacer team giving the Chicago Bulls all it can handle. In truth, divisional playoff matchups are always hotly contested. The Indiana Pacers have played out of their minds in the first two games of the series; due, in large part, to the popular belief that they're no match for the Bulls.
Although the first two games have been suspenseful and highly competitive, the Pacers took themselves out of contention with late-game collapses.
Game 1 saw them lead for 47 minutes, only to surrender the momentum and lead to a fired-up Bulls squad. MVP frontrunner Derrick Rose dropped 39 points; showing why he is most considered as the eventual recipient of the award.
The second game was closer throughout, but ended similarly, as the Bulls took control in the closing moments of the game.
Going into a series as the underdog can be deflating or it can be inspiring. To Indiana's credit, they've played loosely and with a ton of adrenaline, because they aren't expected to win.
This matchup has proven to be a growing experience for both teams.
The young Pacers have gotten quality contributions from guys like Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and A.J. Price, whose role will be magnified with the injury to starting point Darren Collison. Moving forward, such effort can only galvanize a young group looking to become a steady playoff team.
Who is the "X-Factor" of the Bulls-Pacers series?
Indiana can take with them some positives from the previous two games. They were pretty good in transition and also shot about 45 percent from deep in those games.
The Bulls, on the other hand, have been tested and can take nothing for granted in this postseason. Looking beyond the Pacers will only spell trouble, even if they ultimately win the series.
With the battle shifting to Indianapolis, the Bulls must focus on matching the intensity of the Pacers and their home crowd. The Bulls haven't taken good care of the ball, but stayed in each game with dominant, rebounding performances.
Indiana may have surrendered two winnable games on the road, but this series isn't over yet.
Pat Riley once famously declared that a series had not truly begun until "the home team loses".
If Chicago plans to stifle the energy of the Pacers, they have to do a better job of finishing plays in the half court and defending without fouling. Furthermore, more production from guys NOT named Rose will bode well for a team strapped with high expectations.
Chicago looks to shake off the rust with a road win in Indy, but I expect the Pacers to play a smarter game in front of their home crowd.
It's important for each team to try and establish an early rhythm and build on that momentum. The Bulls are pleased to have survived an emotional wave from the Pacers. However, they can't be pleased with playing below their ability.
The series resumes on Thursday, with the Bulls looking to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Whatever the result of the game and series, the Pacers have earned the respect of many; myself included. If they hope to win and in essence, keep things interesting, they have to sell out defensively, rebound, and attack the basket. In the first two games, they didn't do a very good job with the latter.
With that said, there comes a time when shots don't fall. Depending on a hot-shooting night isn't enough against a tough defensive team like Chicago. With their tenacity against the Bulls, Pacers coach Frank Vogel may have erased the "interim" from his job title, but his team has a lot of work to do if they want to remain in the playoffs.