Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose does not usually raise eyebrows with his words. In fact, some have wondered if such a humble, soft-spoken star could ever be an effective leader, but the reigning MVP had a quote worth noting after Wednesday's loss to the Indiana Pacers.
"I'll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game," Rose told reporters. "I can't wait to play them again."
The Pacers' 95-90 win was the Bulls' first home loss of the season, and it brought Indiana to within 2½ games of the Central Division leaders. It also exacted a small measure of revenge for the Pacers, who lost a hard-fought first-round playoff series to the Bulls last season.
So for those reasons, plus the fact the Pacers were coming off a decisive home loss to the Orlando Magic the previous night, there was perhaps more of a celebration on the United Center court than what would normally follow a January win in the NBA.
"They are just thrilled to get the win here," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "They were crushed that we didn't beat them last year in the playoffs."
"We're all competitors. They're in our division. Every time we play them it's a tough matchup. And especially in front of our fans, you don't want to have a letdown and lose at home. To hear them do like that adds a little fuel to the fire. We talked about it after the game."
The Bulls-Pacers first-round series last season was physical, filled with flagrant fouls and harsh words. The Bulls won in five, but the message was sent that the Pacers would not go down quietly.
"This was a big win for us," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "Right now we expect to win."
After the playoff series last season, Granger said Joakim Noah's play was cowardly. He backed off that sentiment before the game Wednesday, but he didn't shy away from discussing the intensity of the budding rivalry.
"We know we can play with these guys," Granger told ESPNChicago.com. "We're off to a strong start. We feel like we're one of the best teams in the East and we're excited to compete against these guys.
It didn't help the Bulls that Rose is battling through a turf toe and Deng missed the game with a torn ligament in his left wrist. But instead of making excuses, Rose is looking ahead.
"The NBA is the NBA and people are going to get injured," Rose said. "So guys got to step up. We have to step up as a team."
The Bulls next face the Pacers on March 5 in the United Center. While most Bulls fans are looking forward to Sunday's showdown against the Miami Heat, one Bulls player might have circled a different date on his calendar Wednesday night.
ESPNChicago.com's Jon Greenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.