The Bulls played 82 games to claim homecourt advantage, and then spent 45 minutes of their first playoff game against Indiana on Saturday trying to give it away.
For all the world it looked like the Bulls were collapsing under the burden of capturing the NBA's best record.
They committed nine turnovers, gave up five three-pointers, and allowed Indiana to pound the offensive boards. In one half. At home. Against a team that won 37 games.
Defensive urgency, anyone?
That was the worst part. They were getting schooled inside and out, and they offered little response. Where was the relentlessness of the league's best defensive team?
Even after that awful first half and a likely torching from coach Tom Thibodeau, where was the relentlessness?
Even after some runs in the fourth quarter, where was the relentlessness?
Tyler Hansbrough had just scored his seventh straight point, sinking a free throw after stealing the ball from a nearly useless Carlos Boozer and dunking while drawing a foul. Pacers, 98-88. The unimaginable was unfolding. The relentlessness, people. Where was the relentlessness?
With less than four minutes to go in a game the Bulls trailed by 10 points, there it was. Finally.
Needing stop after stop, the Bulls got stop after stop. Hansbrough, Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy, didn't matter. Pacers shooters who were able to get their feet set all game suddenly weren't so comfortable. The Pacers couldn't make a basket in the last 3:38, missing their last eight shots, a shutout from the floor when the Bulls desperately needed it.
Deng, the enforcer who came to Derrick Rose’s defense and revved up the crowd, hit a couple free throws. Joakim Noah made a couple baskets. Kyle Korver drilled a three. And Rose scored the last seven of his game-dominating 39 points.
The Bulls outscored the Pacers 16-1 down the stretch. The offense came through, but it was the defense -- the relentless defense -- that sparked it. And finished it, as Noah twice swatted Josh McRoberts in the dying seconds.
It’s close to a perfect situation for the defense-crazed Thibodeau: Enough defense to win a game, but not enough to prevent him from hammering his players the way he has all season. Talk about relentless.