INDIANAPOLIS -- The primary glimmer of hope the Indiana Pacers have for their opening-round playoff series with Chicago is that they have a one-game winning streak over the Bulls.
It’s not much, but eighth-seeded teams can’t be particular.
On March 18, the Pacers defeated the Bulls in overtime at Conseco Fieldhouse, 115-108. Although the Bulls were playing the second game of a back-to-back and without Carlos Boozer, the Pacers took pride in the fact they led by 16 points heading into the fourth quarter and held on despite Derrick Rose’s 42 points.
If there’s a formula for pulling off a first-round miracle, they can look back upon that game as a successful experiment. More than anything they were physical, controlling the boards 50-46 and allowing just 41 percent shooting from the field -- 22 percent from 3-point range.
It will take that kind of fearless attitude, along with poise and shooting, for the Pacers to win games in the upcoming series.
“We’ve got to be the instigators and not the retaliators,” team president Larry Bird said. “That’s going to be hard to do with the young guys, but this is going to be a great experience for us and I think we’ll grow a lot from it.”
Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough personifies the Pacers’ challenge. A second-year player who appeared in just 29 games as a rookie because of injuries, he gives up 15 pounds and seven years of experience to his matchup, Carlos Boozer. Hansbrough played on an NCAA championship team at North Carolina two years ago, but realizes he’s in for a new challenge. A far tougher challenge than anything he’s faced, if everything people are telling him is true.
“It’s a whole different ball park than a regular-season game,” he said. “That’s what everybody says. I have to be prepared for it and see what happens. When you get in the game you can’t back down or be scared. You have to be prepared.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel has tried to simulate playoff physicality in practice by allowing his “red” team of James Posey, Solomon Jones, T.J. Ford, Lance Stephenson, Dahntay Jones and whoever else takes a turn with the unit to try to create some mayhem.
“Those guys have a lot of playoff experience and we’ve encouraged them to do a lot of grabbing and holding and pushing and fouling,” Vogel said. “We’ve told the rest of the guys they’re going to see this and it’s not going to be called. So keep fighting. Don’t look at the officials. You’ve got to get it done past all the fouling.”
Vogel isn’t trying to turn the series into a mixed martial arts bout, however. He’s also hoping his team will play with more poise than in the first three regular season meetings, when it lost to the Bulls by an average of 18 points. That will come partially from preparation and familiarity with the Bulls system.
“The best way to prepare them for the playoff atmosphere is to just prepare them for the game,” Vogel said. “I want them to feel like they’ve already played Chicago two or three times, so when they’re out there it’s not just the intensity and the atmosphere, they’re already in a comfort zone being familiar with what Chicago runs offensively and defensively.”