From the moment Joakim Noah clapped in Roy Hibbert's face and let out a primal scream on the opening possession Monday night, the Bulls were, as Noah likes to say, on edge. Regular-season games are regular-season games, and rivalries, as coaches like to remind, are typically more media angles than anything. But make no mistake: The intensity and competitive dislike in this Bulls-Pacers series isn't going away anytime soon. The Bulls prolonged the inevitable with their physical 89-77 victory, denying the Pacers from winning their second straight Central Division title for the first time in 14 years. But in moving nine games over .500 for the first time this season, the Bulls corrected what has been ailing them — outrebounding the Pacers, holding them to 37 percent shooting and forcing 16 turnovers. Anyone ready for a playoff rematch? Like, now? "They really dominated us on the glass last (Friday) and they were laughing," said Taj Gibson, still fired up in the postgame locker room. "It's frustrating when you play a team that's similar to you and like your rival and they're slapping fives and laughing in your face. We take too much pride in rebounding and playing solid basketball." Indeed, just over 72 hours after fouling out and frustratingly calling the Pacers "floppers," Gibson flipped his own switch. He punished the Pacers for 23 points and eight rebounds, five offensive. And his tip slam on a fast break following Kirk Hinrich's strip of Paul George on a semi-breakaway proved one of the game's signature moments. "I got back and thought about fouling (George)," Hinrich said. "The ball just kind of presented itself so I put my hands on the ball. I think he thought I was going to foul him. So I was just fortunate there." There were other moments: Noah, resting at the scorer's table during a dead ball, smiling as Hibbert walked past him toward the Pacers' bench with five fouls. David West and Jimmy Butler drawing double technical fouls for jawing during a free-throw situation. And Hinrich turning back the clock with 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Noah, who clapped so much he could have led an "Up With People" seminar, finished with one of his typical box score stuffers of 10 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and three blocks.
Bulls topple Pacers in typical physical tussle
Chicago Tribune | Mar 25