In just 24 minutes of second half action, the Indiana Pacers outscored the Chicago Bulls by 23 points on Wednesday night, ending the evening with a 97-80 win and a 5-0 record while sending the division rival Bulls to 1-3. The comeback win came on the second night of a back to back for Indiana, and it unleashed the idea that Pacer All-Star Paul George might be able to replicate LeBron James’ defensive success in key moments on returning Bulls guard Derrick Rose. Rose got off to a hot start in the contest, but finished it with stats that are unfortunately typical for his 2013-14 season: 17 points on 6-15 shooting, four turnovers to two assists.
George, at 6-19, had his first poor shooting game of the season; but that mark only brought him down to 48 percent from the field on the year as he led the NBA’s only unbeaten team to its most impressive win of the year. Following the contest, George lent a little insight into the edge that is driving his Pacer teammates as they attempt to defend their Central Division crown. From Steve Aschburner at NBA.com:
“We want to step away from that shadow as the ‘little brothers’ of this division,” George told NBA.com. “Their success is the Michael Jordan era. This is a new age, this is a new team. It’s ours till they take it.”
If you’ll recall, these current Pacers have won exactly one Central Division title. One. Coming on the heels of Chicago finishing with the league’s best record in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
The Pacers, admirably, are working with the league’s best record currently at 5-0, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that they can’t string out a top mark between now and late April. The team’s depth has been enhanced by returning personnel chief Larry Bird, as summer acquisitions Luis Scola (who finished with 12 key points on Wednesday), Donald Sloan (who pushed the ball relentlessly), and C.J. Watson (who contributed fine defense in reserve of the injured George Hill) helped put Indiana over the top on Wednesday.
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And Paul George, in talking with Aschburner, made it clear that his team is still lamenting the fact that they had to wear the away uniforms in Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference finals. This team wants the top record, and that top seed:
“We know how big the No. 1 seed is. Come one game away and play Game 7 on the opponents’ floor, where they’re getting all the energy. And they just came out and played huge on their floor. That’s in the back of our minds and something that’s motivating us to come out and keep playing well.”
Roy Hibbert? One of the game’s most selfless players is after some personal, individual goals along the way. The anchor of the league’s best defense last season (and so far this season) wants what Marc Gasol took home last year:
— Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) November 7, 2013
People act like I can't have individual goals. I didn't talk about it in the past. Well now I am. I WANT DPoY. That's gonna help my team win — Roy Hibbert (@Hoya2aPacer) November 7, 2013
Chicago, meanwhile, is a worrying 1-3. The team had three days “off” to prepare for Indiana, including a marathon practice on Monday, and is only a desperate Derrick Rose runner against New York away from turning Friday’s contest against Utah into a battle of the winless.
Despite Rose’s return and a hot start from Boozer (who cooled off with just six points on Wednesday) the team has been miserable offensively. The Bulls own the league’s third-worst offensive points per possession numbers, and All-Star center Joakim Noah looks like he’s weeks away from working himself into shape and recovering the timing that was sent askew due to a preseason groin injury.
Myriad things have to fall into place for Chicago to be successful on that end, because despite the team’s image, poor play and injury worries aren’t just something they can grind through. Chicago’s limited players have to seemingly work twice as hard offensively just to rise above the ranks of the mediocre, and this is why coach Tom Thibodeau’s exacting, movement-heavy offense is both so impressive, and so hard to master. If Noah isn’t contributing with pinpoint passing and Rose’s confidence is shot, then this is something that could send an entire season spiraling. Last year, at least, Chicago knew it would be working without Rose. This year? Nobody knows who to trust.
The Pacers? Even without working with Danny Granger or a fully healthy George Hill? The trust is there. And when you have a star playing as well as George has after five games (25.8 points on 44 percent shooting from long range, eight rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.4 combined blocks/steals), the pressure to replicate last year’s near-success tends to dissipate.
Paul George may not deserve to chirp about Central Division championships, as they’ve got just one in the can, and it’s only the first week of November.
He’s not far off from earning those chirping rights, though.
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