Indiana was considered a long shot to win just a game in this series, but the Pacers have not backed down against Chicago, and they actually outplayed the Bulls for the majority of the first two games in this series.
The Pacers executed effectively and matched the Bulls' energy in Games 1 and 2, but were thwarted twice down the stretch by the presumed NBA MVP, Derrick Rose.
Indiana's inability to slow Rose even a little in Chicago—especially late in games—is the only thing that kept it from a 2-0 series lead.
To the Bulls' credit, they have taken two huge punches from this Pacer club and withstood them like Muhammad Ali during "The Rumble in the Jungle."
But if the Bulls want to secure a victory in Indiana tonight and take a commanding 3-0 lead in this first-round series, they will need to do quite a few things well.
Here's a list of the top six:
No. 6: Keep "Psycho T," Tyler Hansbrough, from Getting the Crowd Energized
In any road game, overcoming the energy supplied by the crowd is a key to earning a victory.
Therefore, the Chicago Bulls cannot allow the Pacers' Tyler Hansbrough, an emerging stud, to work the crowd into a frenzy by crashing the boards and cashing in on open looks.
In Game 1, Hansbrough was outstanding, scoring 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field. Simply put, he abused Carlos Boozer all afternoon.
In Game 2, the Bulls did a much better job of closing out on Hansbrough’s jump shots and limited him to just six points on two-of-12 shooting. Additionally, the Bulls' bigs took the ball at "Psycho T," limiting his offensive game by making him work hard on defense.
The Bulls need to put forth a similar effort tonight against the second-year forward to stop him from juicing up the home crowd.
Boozer and the Bulls' bigs must keep Hansbrough off the boards, make him work hard on defense and close out on his jump shot.
The fans will surely be pumped up for the game, and the Bulls can’t allow Hansbrough to give that crowd and his teammates more energy.
No. 5: Deng Must Shoot More Efficiently
Luol Deng has been a key to the Bulls' jump from 41 wins a year ago to a league-leading 62 victories this year. Throughout the season, Deng has been the "Pippen" to Rose’s “Jordan.”
But, the Bulls will need Deng to be more efficient on offense if they want to secure a road playoff victory.
In Game 2, Deng struggled mightily with his mid-range jump shot. With Rose drawing attention and kicking to open shooters, the Bulls rely on players like Deng to convert 17-to-20' jumpers.
Deng averaged nearly 18 points per contest in the regular season, and the Bulls will need Deng to score more if they want to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.
Through the first two games of the postseason, Deng has watched his numbers dip slightly, averaging 16 points on 10-of-26 shooting overall.
I look for Deng to be efficient offensively while playing tremendous defense—as he has all season—to help the Bulls secure a road playoff victory.
No. 4: Stop Danny Granger
With Darren Collison listed as "doubtful" for tonight’s contest in Indiana, the Pacers will be forced to look to Danny Granger for even more offense. The Bulls, in turn, will need to focus their defensive effort even more so on the Pacers' small forward and leading scorer.
Granger has averaged 21.5 points in the first two games, while shooting an outstanding 50 percent (17-of-34) from the field against the league’s best defense.
Thus far, Chicago has had no answer for Granger. Each time it looks like the Bulls are poised to make a run, Granger has stopped the momentum, coming up with big shots and slowing the Bulls down.
The Bulls are not accustomed to seeing an opposing player shoot 50 percent; Granger has now done this two nights in a row against the vaunted Bulls defense.
If the Bulls are going to take a 3-0 lead tonight, they will need to limit Granger by closing out and forcing him into tougher shots.
No. 3: Boozer Needs To Continue To Be Aggressive on Offense
Carlos Boozer rebounded nicely for Game 2 after having an ugly first game in this series. In Game 1, Boozer got into early foul trouble and never found any rhythm, finishing with just 12 points and six rebounds on four-of-11 shooting.
Boozer has the ability to dominate this series. A player with his offensive ability should be calling, begging and pleading to touch the rock on every Bulls possession. The Pacers have no big man that can match Boozer’s athleticism and skill.
In Game 2, Boozer was noticeably more aggressive, and his production was better; Boozer notched 17 points and 16 rebounds Monday.
Yet, Boozer became very passive in the second half, going 16 minutes without attempting a shot.
Boozer needs to be productive for the Bulls to win on the road and be title contenders.
No. 2: Stay Out of Foul Trouble
During the first two games of the series, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and, most disturbingly, Derrick Rose, spent some extra time on the pine with foul trouble. On the road, the Bulls can't afford to have their stars on the bench.
Look for the Pacers to continue to attack Rose and try to get him into foul trouble. Obviously, the Pacers have not been able to stop Rose while he has been on the floor, so their best bet may be to try to keep him off of the floor by going right at him and drawing fouls.
The Bulls must keep their top-tier players out of foul trouble to stop the Pacers from getting their raucous home crowd going with a big run.
If the Bulls can stay out of foul trouble, they will take a huge step towards a Game 3 win.
Who wins this series?
No. 1: Continue Dominating on the Boards
The Bulls have not played well in the first two playoff contests; give credit to the Pacers for making every shot difficult for the Bulls.
The Bulls have shot just 41 percent from the field and just under 33 percent from beyond the arc in the postseason. With shooting numbers like that, it is truly amazing that the Bulls have a 2-0 lead in this series.
Everyone knows Rose has been fantastic—he has almost single-handedly carried his team to victories in the fourth quarter of each game.
But, it was the Bulls' total domination on the glass that kept them close in each game and gave Rose the chance to carry his team to victory.
Thus far, the Bulls have out-rebounded the Pacers, 106-67. WOW.
The Bulls will need to continue to clean the glass if they want a third straight victory over the Pacers.