April 16, 2011

Oddly enough, the Bulls and Pacers -- two teams that forged their postseason berths on the strength of their respective defenses -- both experienced varying degrees of defensive futility in the first game of their series. The fact that the series took an offensive tilt in Game 1 favored Indiana, but Chicago was nonetheless able to pull out a victory by way of having the most dynamic offensive player on the floor. The Bulls' overall offense may not be elite, but Derrick Rose certainly is, and the likely MVP led his team on an impressive fourth quarter run to seal the game.

• Chicago may boast the top defense in the NBA this season, but it allowed Indiana to score at a rate of 113.8 points per 100 possessions in Game 1, in part because of the Bulls' inability to disrupt the scoring balance of Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. That combination, which scored a combined 74 points on 51 percent shooting, proved to be surprisingly stable; after establishing Hibbert in the low post during the first quarter, Indiana shifted its offense onto the shoulders of Collison and Granger, the Pacers' best individual shot-creators. With those two attacking the Bulls' defense in a variety of ways and the 7-foot-2 Hibbert roaming around the rim, Hansbrough was left open to fire mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper, without so much as a hand in his face. If those four can maintain some facsimile of their Game 1 production for the remainder of the series, Chicago will face its first real defensive test of the postseason a bit sooner than anticipated.

• Indiana, on the other hand, did an excellent job of contesting shots, but fouled far too often and conceded an absurdly high number of offensive rebounds -- both indirect results of Derrick Rose's play; Rose is so successful in attacking the basket that not only do teams end up fouling him at a high rate, but his drives attract the defensive attentions of opposing big men. Hibbert, Hansbrough and Jeff Foster are forced to rotate to counter Rose's foray to the rim, and when those plays don't lead to a bucket or a shooting foul by way of Rose's brilliance, Joakim Noah and Kurt Thomas are able to pick up uncontested offensive rebounds on the weak side. As a team, the Bulls collected an offensive board on half of their misses, a gaudy mark that just shouldn't be possible against a playoff opponent.

• A possibly fluky element of the Pacers' surprising offensive success: ball control. The Pacers' turnover rate in this game was a surprisingly low 11.5 percent, despite the fact that Indiana was among the most turnover-prone teams in the league this season. That careful execution may not seem likely to last, particularly as Chicago's defense works itself into playoff shape. That said, it's not as if the Pacers were doing anything elaborate; if Indiana sticks to the same basic offensive game plan, it may be able to keep its turnovers from becoming too much of a problem in this series, which gives the rest of its offense a fighting chance.

• In March, SI.com's Zach Lowe made note of Kyle Korver's potential as a playoff x-factor, and specifically pointed to the effectiveness of a lineup featuring Rose, Korver, Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. That very unit turned the tide for the Bulls on Saturday with a crucial 14-1 run late in the fourth quarter. Within the final three minutes of play, that group completely erased a nine-point Indiana lead, thanks to a block and subsequent backbreaking three from Korver. It remains to be seen if that five-man unit can hold defensively against more potent offenses, but its first playoff trial run was a resounding success.

• The early victim of the Bulls' shortened playoff rotation: Omer Asik. The Turkish center isn't a household name, but he was one of the most effective rookies in the NBA this season. Though Rose is often credited with carrying the Bulls through injuries to Noah and Boozer, a lot of the credit for the Chicago's resiliency should go to Asik, who rotates and defends the rim as well as any reserve center in the league. Kurt Thomas played quality minutes in Asik's stead during Game 1, but it's still a shame to see such an able defender buried deep in the rotation, particularly when the Bulls could benefit from his defensive impact. Asik is by no means a key to the series, but he makes a legitimate impact by moving his feet and contesting shots, and Chicago could use those skills right about now.

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