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Bulls took season series from Pacers, 3-1

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

The Bulls had a 3-1 record over the Indiana Pacers this season. Sam Smith takes a look back at the four games:

Dec. 13, 2010: Bulls 92-73
Led by Carlos Boozer with 22 points and 18 rebounds. This was a brutal, physical game that left Derrick Rose afterward more aching than at any time this season. Rose shuffled through the postgame locker room like an 80-year-old after rolling his ankle early in the game and then taking a hard fall on his wrist which the team initially thought was a break. Could have been bye bye season. Asked afterward about where it hurt, Rose said, "My ankle, the elbow, wrist, hip, shin, shoulder."

Rose also drew the first technical foul of his NBA career for complaining uncharacteristically animatedly about a non-call. "I saw my whole future flash before my eyes, coming down," Rose said of the hard fall he took in the fourth quarter. Danny Granger didn't play with an ankle injury as the Pacers were led by Brandon Rush and T.J. Ford with 13 each as Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George, now starters, weren't playing then. Boozer took advantage of the matchup with slower center Roy Hibbert with Josh McRoberts starting at power forward. This was Joakim Noah's penultimate game before thumb surgery, though he would have one of his better games with 11 points and 11 rebounds right before opting for surgery. The Bulls led by two and halftime, though were getting beat on the boards. They cleaned that up and pulled away with a 27-15 fourth quarter to win easily in the United Center for the Bulls sixth straight in what seemed to be dawning as a bright season.

"I don't think I ever won six in a row here," said Noah. "I've never been this much over .500. To me that feels great. This is fun. I feel the best part is we're not even close to playing yet on the level we want to. The potential is great on this team. But we've still got a long way to go."

Jan 14, 2011: Bulls 99-86
Led by Derrick Rose with 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. The Bulls had a somewhat easier time of it, though Granger was back. Luol Deng made him work for his 22 points with 23 shots. That is crucial in playing the Pacers. The Bulls took a 16-point lead shortly after halftime and carried it into the fourth quarter and were never much threatened. It was a lax Pacers' effort, a harbinger of the coaching change that was percolating. The Indiana guards went under the screen and Rose pulled up for a trio of threes.

Kurt Thomas playing for Noah had 18 rebounds, which raises an interesting question regarding the Pacers. Thomas has been much more effective against the more physical Hibbert and you wonder if Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will go more often to Thomas. The Bulls went to 26-13 on a 54-win pace, generally amazing observers with the Bulls looking ahead after leaving Indianapolis to the next night and first meeting with Miami, which the Bulls would win at home. The Pacers shot 32.6 percent, a pattern in the games with the Bulls after 35.7 percent in the first game, as Thibodeau began to call Deng the team's glue.

"Lu is in such great shape he can handle the minutes," said Thibodeau. "He's prepared himself for this, the way he works in the offseason and takes care of himself during the season, he has shown he can handle it (46 minutes)," said Thibodeau. "He's really the glue to the team. Whatever we need, he provides. Guard a range four, the primary scorer. He gives you rebounding, scoring. He hits the three and opens things for Derrick and gives him more room to operate."

Jan. 29, 2011: Bulls 110-89
Led by Carlos Boozer with 24 points and 10 rebounds. This would be Jim O'Brien's last game as Pacers coach, which he may have known. He was ejected late in the game and as reporters waited after the game, O'Brien strolled down the United Center corridor with his bag slung over his shoulder like a man without a care in the world, or at least no more players to debate.

Josh McRoberts offset Boozer with 20 points and eight rebounds, though he was the victim of a highlight facial dunk from Ronnie Brewer on the play O'Brien would be ejected. Taj Gibson suffered a sprained ankle and was helped off. The Pacers broke 40 percent for the first time against the Bulls, though just barely at 40.7 percent. The Bulls defensive play has been the difference in holding down the high scoring Pacers. Derrick Rose had 20 points and seven assists in gutting out what was diagnosed as an ulcer and wincing his way through the game. Rose quietly, which defines everything for him but his play, was sneaking up on great free throw shooting after missing a late one a month before that could have sent the Clippers game into overtime. Since that game, Rose had shot 86 percent on free throws and was 94 percent for the last five games before Indiana and 92 percent the previous 11 games. The Pacers used an aggressive trap on Rose, catching him coming over halfcourt, in the second half. But he hit Deng or Boozer at the free throw area as they made plays from there.

Again, the Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter after leading by four at halftime and five after three. "You knew they had a lot of young talent," said Kyle Korver, who had 16 points off the bench, nine in the fourth quarter. "Booz, myself and Ronnie felt we were pieces who fit in well here. We weren't maybe the elite superstars they were looking for, but we knew we were pieces that would fit well and I think that's shown so far. It remains to be seen how good this team really can be. The future is bright, for sure."

March 18, 2011. Pacers 115-108 in overtime
Led by Tyler Hansbrough with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Derrick Rose scored a career-high 42 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter and was 18 of 21 on free throws, but the Bulls fell short in overtime after Rose rallied them from 20 down in the second half. It was Rose at his individual best, willing the Bulls back into the game. He was the only Bulls player to score a field goal in the last 13 minutes, though Thibodeau was furious with the Bulls defense until the fourth quarter.

Thibodeau called it a "step backward." For the fourth straight game, the Bulls outscored the Pacers by double digits in the fourth quarter, this time 29-13. Rose made free throws with 1.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game and then blocked the potential winner at the buzzer to go into overtime. Carlos Boozer missed the game with a sprained ankle, though Noah had his best scoring game since his return from injury with 17 points. But he had just three rebounds.

The Pacers would have 26 second chance points with a renewed spirit under interim coach Frank Vogel. The Pacers also outrebounded the Bulls 50-46. Rose was brilliant refusing to give up in Indianapolis with the Bulls down 14 at half and 16 after three, but ready to go again. "That's a team we could possibly see in the playoffs," he said afterward. "I can't wait to play them again." This time he does get that chance starting Saturday.

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