The difference between the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers at this moment can be seen in more than just the chasm between the team’s leading stars, Paul George and Derrick Rose. In the 97-80 win for the only remaining undefeated team in the league, the supporting cast around the two players was the deciding factor.
Rose did score 17 points as the tries once more to find rhythm and consistency in a struggling offense. But he shot only 6-of-15 from the field, turning the ball over 4 times, finishing with only two assists. He’s shooting only 31.3% from the field during his early comeback attempt, turning the ball over 5.3 times a game. He was one of the few not completely stifled by the Indiana defense (Luol Deng scored 17 points), but his play on both ends of the floor was a leading example of just how far the distance is for the Bulls before they become legitimate contenders in the East again.
Everything the Pacers do begins with defense, as they limited Chicago to only 18 points in the fourth quarter, not to mention an awful 35.6% from the field through the whole game. Paul George was the team’s top scorer with 21 points, but he was only 6-of-19 from the field, and most of the credit from being so dominant against a team that’s supposedly very similar in plenty of aspects has to go to David West and Roy Hibbert.
Early in the season, it look like Hibbert is embracing his role as a defensive anchor, maybe still angry about not being taken into consideration in last year’s vote for Defensive player of the year. He grabbed 10 rebounds, had 5 blocks and most importantly kept the Bulls on only 14 points in the paint. David West was efficient on both ends of the floor, as usual, with 17 points and 13 rebounds, helping stifle the Bulls’ frontcourt. Boozer and Noah combined to score only 10 points on 3-of-12 from the field, allowing 17 offensive rebounds for the Pacers.
Indiana gave up young players during the offseason to get themselves a proven point creator from the bench. It’s been a quiet start to the season for Luis Scola, but his 12 points in 16 minutes, including 8 coming in the fourth quarter, sparked the Indiana run that finished the game off as the Bulls’ completely fell apart in the fourth quarter. Chicago lost on a 11-30 run the Pacers went on in the fourth quarter, while the Bulls hit only 11 field goals during the entire second half. There’s no movement, no spacing and from a certain point, no hope that it’ll get better during the game.
Right now, Indiana are playing like the best team in the NBA, even without the injured George Hill. Paul George can afford to have wasteful nights on offense with the kind of defense he’s a big part of. For the Bulls, there are problems on both ends of the floor early in the season, as it seems Tom Thibodeau is starting once again from scratch in teaching this team the defense that has been the bread and butter for the last three years. Hopefully, their Derrick Rose-led offense will pick up soon enough as well.