That might not have been the case. I’m sure the Tom Thibodeau philosophy is to approach every competitor the same way. But many thought that Bulls would have no problem getting past the Pacers, the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Sure, the Bulls took the series 4-1, but for all those who watched every game, cringing until the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, that record is deceiving. The Bulls did suffer their only division loss to the Pacers during the regular season.
Now we’re in the playoffs, when the game really starts to be played.
The Pacers played good, they played hard, but they just could not finish. Yet, in the first three quarters of each game, the Pacers exposed some weak points of the team with the NBA’s best record.
If this game wasn’t enough for the Bulls to put a shooting guard at the top of their shopping list for the offseason, then Tom Thibodeau will continue to hear criticisms on starting Keith Bogans.
The Pacers' defense looked just like the Bulls. Indiana clogged the lanes, played the helpline, rotated quickly, and played the boards aggressively.
Josh McRoberts, Tyler Hansbrough, and Jeff Foster got physical—way too physical—down low. They played dirty, sticking an elbow or a hand in the faces of whomever chose to drive into them, forcing the Bulls to take outside shots.
The Bulls’ most versatile shooter, Luol Deng, struggled to come alive when the Bulls needed his offense the most. As Mr. Consistency, Deng went cold in Games 2 and 4, shooting below 40 percent.
As for Mr. Offense, Carlos Boozer struggled throughout the series. The big bulk of cash who should be putting 20 points on the board was not doing his job, especially when it mattered the most.
The Bulls needed scoring, but couldn’t get it in the paint.
Derrick Rose has taken criticism as the favorable MVP candidate for his poor shooting percentage. When the Pacers took away his driving lane, Rose started jacking up three's.
The shots that people may remember the most are the ones he hit at clutch moments, but the truth still does stand—Rose does put up a lot of shots, and he took plenty of three's when they weren't necessary.
The Bulls relied on Kyle Korver too much in the fourth quarter, and there's no doubt that every team will devise a defensive plan for him.
Life would be much better for the Bulls if Bogans could have the night he had in Game 5, when he miraculously scored 15 points. That seems like 15 more than what he averaged all season.
This is where the Bulls struggled in the beginning and middle of the season.
They were slow and lethargic from the get-go, falling behind early and fighting to stay within a reasonable point gap. In the end, Rose ended up carrying the team all the way and took over the game to seal a win.
Then in December, the Bulls seemed to come alive and continued to play all four quarters. The answer to their slow starts was simple: Joakim Noah.
Noah put the aggressiveness and life back into his team that struggled with injuries throughout the season. He’s been the pace setter for the Bulls' energy level, but his return also marked the decreasing effectiveness of Boozer.
A Noah and Boozer chemistry was the least of the Bulls’ concerns going into the playoffs, but the difference between the two became more evident in the first round series. They can’t seem to share minutes.
Noah wants to run the court, scrap for rebounds, and jump to block shots. Boozer looks as lifeless as Shaq these days. When both are on the court, Noah and Boozer’s desires don’t seem to match.
Indiana got out early in each quarter and maintained the lead until the final minutes. For the Bulls to pull away with a lead by the second half, they would’ve needed to play Korver early, but he’s a defensive liability. And with the Pacers playing aggressive defense, Indana would’ve pulled away even more.
Ronnie Brewer has proven to be a spark plug for the Bulls with his explosive slashes, but it seems like Thibs doesn’t fully trust Brewer early in the game until he can show consistency down the road.
It seemed like every time the Bulls got a break with a shot, the Pacers quickly answered back with another.
The Pacers showed athleticism around the perimeter. They showed youth and speed in Paul George and Darren Collison, two guys who could move the ball and make plays off the dribble.
Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger, when set, killed Chicago from the outside.
The Pacers shot very well. They knocked down jumpers that killed a possible run that the Bulls tried to make. They found ways to isolate shooters and blow by Rose and Korver when both were in.
Luckily, those shots didn’t go in when the pressure was on. Unfortunately, the Bulls won’t get that break against clutch guys.
The Pacers stripped Boozer of what he’s worth. They took away his offensive game by playing him dirty, something he’s not used to. He likes his beard cleanly trimmed, his head polished and his shots smooth.
Tyler Hansbrough, Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts played him tight and forced Boozer to take more contact beyond boxing out. They attacked Boozer, forcing him to play actual defense. But Boozer chose to play the latter and foul instead.
Throughout the series, he’s been on the bench because of foul trouble. He scored as low as two points, but he’s not Bogans. And in this aspect, Boozer deserves more criticism than Bogans because he refused to move his feet or jump for rebounds.
Thibs found the answer to Boozer’s lack of productivity in Taj Gibson, who has been a key contributor in both starting and coming off the bench.
Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik didn’t get much playing time in the series, and if Boozer continues his poor play, those two will need to make every minute that they play count.
It’s hard to teach a team how to defend Rose when he attacks and then execute that lesson. Rose manages to find a hole when he drives and gets the ball in the hoop with some acrobatic play.
But the Pacers managed to limit Rose’s driving lane and forced him to take outside shots. They stufed him, literally. They went for the block. They didn't give him a free pass down the lanes. The only way to stop Rose might be to foul him and hope to get away without a call. That’s what the Pacers did, and Rose’s teammates didn’t like it.
The series became so physical that it evoked emotion from Deng and forced him out of character as he tried to defend Rose on a foul from Foster. Deng pulled a Joakim Noah, waving his arms telling Bulls fans to get on their feet inside the United Center.
Rose’s ankle injury poses questions on his agility and his confidence in attacking with worries of rolling it again.
The Bulls need to play their signature defense and with energy all four quarters against the Atlanta Hawks to show that those loopholes don’t define their team.