Bulls 104, Pacers 99: Welcome to Playoff Hockey
-- Coach Thibs didn't appreciate Luol Deng's best ever moment:
"You should be honored by my lateness. That I would even show up to this fake shit."
Ideally, we all would have learned something about playoff basketball, the beast that it is, two years ago when a vastly inferior Bulls team took the defending champion Celtics to the edge in Derrick Rose's rookie season. It earned Greatest First Round Series Ever appointments even before it was through, and exists as one of the most endearing moments of Chicago sports in the aughts. At least five of those seven games were major nail biters; if Vinny Del Negro still has nightmares about Ray Allen, I wouldn't blame him.
So why, exactly, was Game One of the Bulls' first post-MJ title run so much of a shock to the system? Color me naive -- maybe it's a personal problem -- but that game was straight-up *jarring*, even beyond the running score. "The playoffs exist in another gear", we know, but the old adage can never really be comprehended until the first time it smacks you in the head. On Saturday, it became imprinted forever the third or fourth time Rose was clobbered heading to the hoop -- some hits borderline dirty, all worthy of the vaunted Hard Foul tag. Maybe I should have anticipated this, but much like Goran Dragic, I missed the memo. It reminded me of the Blackhawks' championship chase a season ago: boasting "raised intensity" feels like a too-easy cop out, but there's no getting around that everything is just harder. Playoff hoops, you guys. Not really all that different from playoff hockey.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Derrick Rose's body is ironclad, just like his will. Forget the Jordan comparisons, Rose's effort in Game One was vintage D. Wade, 2006 Finals Edition. Derrick Rose put his head down, and Derrick Rose got to the hoop. It's the Bulls' best play, and when Carlos Boozer sucks as hard as he sucked on Saturday, it feels like the only way they can score at all. There was nothing free about those 21 foul shots, though. Rose was battered, to the point where it has to be a concern as the tournament goes on and the ferocity only grows.
I'm weary of drawing too many parables from MJ's Bulls -- times change and so do people -- but the Jordan Rules vibes were simply too heavy to ignore. I'm too young to remember those late 80's wars against the Pistons, but the Pacers apparently have the VHS tape in possession. It's a good strategy: when Rose beats your defender off the dribble -- a given, practically -- you might as well try to knock his block off. If there's an unwanted side-effect, from Indiana's perspective, it's that you simply couldn't conceive a better way to piss off your obviously superior opponent. Those fourth quarter outbursts of emotion from Luol Deng and Joakim Noah will live forever, and those aren't possible without a spark. You can thank Jeff Foster for that.
So yes, the heightened atmosphere is mostly what I'll remember about Game One -- well, that and Boozer's garbage. In retrospect, it feels like a syllabus for what's to come. I can't imagine the first game of the 2011 playoffs will be the hardest. I just hope Rose makes it out alive.
* * * * *
-- I could write 500 words on Boozer, but I'll defer to Matt for now if only because I'm short on time.
-- Danny Granger on Rose:
Game Two is tonight. For the sake of my internal organs, let's hope this one is a bit more comfortable.