The Indiana Pacers are undefeated no more, losing to the team seeking to replace them as the main challenger and possibly the best team in the Eastern conference. The Chicago Bulls played their best game of the season, winning 110-94, led by Luol Deng with 23 points and Derrick Rose, getting to the 20-point mark for the first time this season.
That defense that looked so impressive for the first nine games wasn’t there. Indiana allowed 26.3 points above their average, 12% better shooting (the Bulls were 50.6% from the field) and 21% better three-point shooting (the Bulls were an incredible 57.9%), not to mention losing in the rebounding battle which hardly happens.
The difference? Rose hardly making mistakes. He took the time he had for not playing against Toronto to do some soul searching probably, figuring out what he’s been doing wrong so far. He was 7-of-16 from the field, by far his best shooting performance of the season, and not turning the ball over once, which is the second consecutive game without one after making at least four in the first five games off his comeback.
It’s not that Rose had things run smoothly for him right off the bat, taking a couple of tough, off-balance shots that have been so typical of him since returning. However, he found it a lot easier than usual to move through the Pacers’ defense and start scoring on some floaters, which later opened up things for him on the outside, finishing with a very impressive 6-of-11 from beyond the arc, something he’s been looking to find since returning.
The ball moved well for the Bulls unlike their usual games, maybe taking advantage of a slow night from the Pacers. Roy Hibbert was pulled away from the basket more than usual, not that the Bulls seemed to afraid of him from the start. George Hill and Paul George were beaten a lot easier than usual, as the Bulls opened up a 25 point-lead by half time, which meant Rose, still suffering a bit from his hamstring injury, could take it easy in the fourth quarter, leaving after 30 minutes of basketball.
Deng had another excellent game with 23 points and 7 rebounds, showing time and time again that it might be too soon to crown Jimmy Butler as his heir. Butler isn’t shining offensively at the moment (10 points in 25 minutes) because he is simply one of the last options to get a touch on the ball. He’s doing very well on defense, including during the moments he had to guard Paul George, who was an awful 3-of-14 from the field, with the Pacers as a team shooting 40%, mostly thanks to a fourth quarter filled with garbage time.
The Bulls got back at the Pacers for an earlier loss, but looking like the dominant team right from the start instead of simply pulling away late in the game like Indiana did. Is this the difference Rose makes? People tend to forget how good he actually was before the injury, even during the 2011-2012 season, missing almost half of it. A couple more performances like this one, and it won’t be so hard to remember.