If story of the first four games of this first round series was an inferior team giving a vastly superior team all they could handle, the story of game five was a superior team finally asserting their dominance on an inferior team. The Indiana Pacers, despite playing their hearts out for five straight games, have finally bowed out of the 2011 playoffs with a stinging 116-89 loss to the Chicago Bulls and losing the series 4-1.
But what a 4-1 this series was! The Pacers showed me and many of their fans (and I think even themselves) that if they play hard, play together and play with dedication and defense, they can be an elite team in the NBA. Frank Vogel and his team will no doubt be disappointed but they can be proud of the effort and use the emotion to better their games in the offseason.
In game five, the Bulls turned it up a notch right from the beginning, going up by double digits early, and making it tough for the Pacers to get back in the game. The Bulls jumped out to a 36-25 lead after the first quarter and held on to lead 54-46 at the break. When Derrick Rose picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench, the Pacers somehow cut the lead to just 4 points. But then Thibadeau re-inserted Rose back into the lineup, and the gamble paid off. The MVP-to-be showed exactly why the Bulls finished with the best record in the regular season by hitting a bunch of threes and finding his open teammates for more threes. The Bulls just went ballistic from that point on, and it seemed like everything they were throwing up was going in. They finished with 14 three pointers on the night.
Rose had 25 points and 6 assists, Luol Deng had 24, 6 rebounds and 7 assists, Keith Bogans hit 5 threes to finish with 15, and Joakim Noah had 14 and 8 rebounds with 4 blocks.
For the Pacers, Granger led again with 20, 6 and 3, Hansbrough had 14 and 11, Hibbert had 11 and Dahntay Jones had 10. But they just had no answers for Rose and the Bulls and either ends of the floor. Josh McRoberts got tossed from the game in the third quarter after copping a forearm to the face from Noah and stupidly retaliating right in front of the officials.
Was it the Pacers finally slipping after playing out of their minds in the first four games, or was it the Bulls finally waking up and realising that they were a much better team? I tend to think it was the latter. The Pacers still played hard this game but they had a lot more mental lapses on defense, their shots didn’t fall and the 50-50 balls somehow went to the Bulls the majority of the time.
Still, nothing to be ashamed of. No one expected the Pacers to give the Bulls this much trouble. They just ran into a much better team with an unguardable superstar in Derrick Rose.
More to come with a wrap up of the series and a season round up for the Pacers.