The Chicago Bulls not only ended the Indiana Pacers' 9-game winning streak to start the regular season, they did it in emphatic style. The final score of 110-94 actually made the game looks closer than it actually was, as the Bulls led by 11 by the end of the first, 25 at the half and more than 30 before the game was over. It was also the first time this season the Pacers allowed a team to score more than 100 points or shoot more than 50% (the Bulls shot 52%).
The Bulls were just on fire (when Derrick Rose hits 6-11 threes despite not practicing all week, you know they're hot), while the Pacers were extremely tentative, passing up semi-open shots for a contested shot on just about every play, getting outhustled to loose balls and getting shredded on defense. Full credit to the Bulls for exploiting the matchups and knowing when and where to attack the Pacers on the floor. It was obvious they had put a lot of effort into watching tape and preparing for the game after their previous loss against the Pacers about 10 days ago. The Bulls have not lost since.
The Pacers were going to lose sooner or later, but losing in this manner was the last thing anyone expected. Well, maybe the Pacers of old, but this Pacers team had been playing so well that you'd at least expect them to compete. Well, they were just horrible tonight, but if you need to look for a silver lining there are plenty to be found.
First of all, I didn't really like the way the team was getting overconfident. Coach Frank Vogel and the players were saying all the right things in the media about focusing on the next game and not getting too ahead of themselves because of the hot start, but I got the feeling that the Pacers were starting to believe their own hype, just from little actions on the court and little things in comments said off it. Being humbled like this tonight is a wonderful reminder to this young club that they haven't achieved anything yet and that there are still a LOT of improvements to be made. My only concern is that this was such a big blow to their confidence that the effects might linger, though with this bunch I am sure they will regroup and refocus sooner rather than later.
The second silver lining is the play of Chris Copeland, who came off the bench with the game all but over so he could stretch his legs and get some confidence back. Well, he sure did that, missing just one shot to score 13 points in 17 minutes for a team-best +14 on the plus-minus chart (second best was Rasual Butler with +1; all starters were at least -13). Copeland deserves some more minutes, probably at the expense of rookie Solomon Hill, and maybe he just made a good case to Frank Vogel tonight. His defense was still horrible, but the rookie hasn't exactly been doing much at either end of the floor.
The third silver lining is that the Pacers still don't have Danny Granger back, while the Bulls had everybody. Granger is still out with that calf injury and suffered an upper respiratory infection as well (he just can't catch a break), so when he will be back is a question everyone will still be asking for at least another week, and when he will return to anything resembling form is anyone's guess. But if Granger can contribute, especially defensively against Luol Deng, the Pacers will be much more potent.
The Pacers don't play the Bulls again until March, and when they do, it will be a good barometer of how far the team has come since this loss.
Meanwhile, they need to regroup for a few days before heading to New York to play the Knicks on Wednesday, followed by Boston. The Knicks are struggling (they just got hammered by the Hawks at home and are 3-6 for the season including 1-5 at home) and Boston has been better after a slow start (4-7 after a loss to the Wolves tonight), but both are winnable road games for the Pacers. Not to look too far ahead, but after the Celtics the Pacers will play the 76ers at home, so it's very possible the Pacers might start a new winning-streak pretty soon. Finishing November as close to perfect as possible will be key as they embark on a brutal 5-game West coast road trip (that ends with the Spurs and Thunder) to kick off December.