Commentary

Bulls save best for last versus Pacers

Rose got plenty of help, and defense looked like old self in Game 5 pasting

Updated: April 27, 2011, 1:50 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Frank Vogel had evidently thought it through and it sure sounded good hours before Game 5 of the Indiana Pacers' first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

"When history is written about this series and this team," the Pacers coach said he told his team Tuesday morning, "they won't view this as the perceived mismatch that it was coming into this series."

The caveat, of course, was that the Pacers would continue to exert the strong will and unbridled intensity that had them out-playing the Bulls for most of their first four games, despite Chicago's 3-1 series lead.

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireTaj Gibson was one of several Bulls not named Derrick Rose who played big roles in Game 5.

And that scenario left no room for the Bulls to actually display a shred of pride before it was over.

Whatever the motivation, it was indeed an entirely different Bulls team that showed up at the United Center Tuesday, burying the Pacers and moving onto the Eastern Conference semifinals with a convincing 116-89 victory.

"I think their coach was just trying to get them fired up and ready to play," said Bulls guard Keith Bogans, who pumped in 15 points on 5-of-7 3-point shooting. "But also we heard it, so it got us fired up and ready to play."

Displaying no obvious signs of the left ankle sprain he sustained in Game 4 on Saturday, Derrick Rose sparked the blowout in a 30-19 third quarter.

Returning to the floor at the 6:17 mark of the third quarter with four fouls, Rose scored 10 points in the Bulls' 23-8 run, including three 3-pointers, a block of 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert's shot under the Pacers' basket, two assists, one steal and one rebound.

Rose, who played just 30 seconds of the fourth quarter after picking up his fifth foul and less than 30 minutes total, finished with 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting. But for the first time this postseason, it was a team effort and a complete effort on display for the Bulls, who never trailed in the game.

"We came out with a lot of intensity, with a lot of fire," said Luol Deng, who finished with 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds. "That's something we haven't done."

With Rose, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer all saddled with three fouls by halftime and Boozer also picking up his fourth in the third quarter, Bogans and Taj Gibson most notably picked up the slack.

Noah I've never been in this position before, so I'm cherishing every moment. I'm not worried about peoples' expectations and what they think that we should do and why was it so hard? We played a competitive team. If you ask them before the game, they believed that they could win.

-- Joakim Noah

"I just had a great time playing," said Gibson, who looked it with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting and seven rebounds.

Gibson replaced the still-moribund Boozer and the difference was stunning as the younger player's energy sparked a renewed defensive effort that forced seven Indiana turnovers in the third quarter leading to 11 Bulls points.

Boozer, meanwhile, had two points and five rebounds, finishing the series with an average of 10.4 points on 35.8 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds in 30 minutes, which figures only to put more pressure on his teammates as the playoffs continue.

For now, however, Noah and Rose, among other Bulls who have never progressed past the first round, seemed in no mood to do anything but revel in getting past a Pacers team that gave them more than they could have expected and certainly all they wanted.

"I've never been in this position before, so I'm cherishing every moment," Noah said. "I'm not worried about peoples' expectations and what they think that we should do and why was it so hard? We played a competitive team. If you ask them before the game, they believed that they could win."

That they did.

"The future is bright for this team," said Vogel, who can only hope for the same himself as the team ponders whether to remove his interim tag. "We're one of the most attractive teams in the NBA with our young talent and our salary cap space. ... We put Pacers basketball back on the map."

If they did so at the expense of a few layers of the Bulls' skin and even a few stretched tendons, both teams walk away the better for it.

The Bulls, set to face the winner of the Orlando-Atlanta series (which the Hawks lead 3-2) may very well be challenged by either opponent. But there will be no excuse for the lack of intensity on defense and sloppiness on offense that was on display for the better part of this series.

"That's the way we've been wanting to play the whole series and to end it that way, we can carry it on to the next series," Bogans promised. "Defense first and offense second is how we have to play."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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