Before Game 1 of the Bulls-Pacers series, Indiana coach Frank Vogel talked about how his team prepared for the playoffs by encouraging excessively physical play from the second unit in practice.
"We encourage them to hold on every screen, make every screen illegal, push off, foul, grab reach, do everything they can outside of the rules to help simulate to our guys what the playoffs are going to be like," Vogel said.
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Wait a minute. Was he trying to insinuate the Bulls don't play by the rules?
"Nobody plays by the rules," Vogel replied. "When you're on the road in the playoffs, you do not get calls and we have to understand that."
When the game started, it looked like a continuation of practice. The Pacers must have studied old tape of Bill Laimbeer to learn how to execute hard fouls.
Indiana's big men delivered several "roof jobs" to Derrick Rose. That's when once-vertical arms slam down onto the driving player's head and shoulders before release of the ball.
Rose took the punishment, shot 21 free throws, scored 39 points and led the Bulls on an inspired comeback. Trailing 98-88 with 3:38 remaining, the East's top seed finished the game with a stunning 16-1 run and pulled out an intense 104-99 victory.
After the contest, Rose was asked about the Pacers' rough fouls and basically responded with, "They're going to have to hit me harder than that."
"It was hard, but they weren't really that hard," Rose said. "I wasn't holding my arm after they hit me or anything. That's why I continued to drive. If anything, me getting knocked down or something, that would hurt. But I was fine with it."
Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough took the game's hardest hit, an accidental elbow to the side of the head while battling for a rebound with Bulls veteran Kurt Thomas. Hansbrough, who missed much of his rookie season because of vertigo, crumpled to the ground and stayed there awhile.
When Hansbrough popped up and tried to walk to the locker room, he got wobbly and had to sit down next to the paramedic station in the tunnel. Not long after, though, he was back on the court.
Here's where the game seemed to change in one direction, then veered in another. With 4:52 remaining, Hansbrough delivered the hardest foul on Rose, hitting the soon-to-be MVP in the air, then following through with his arms to the head.
Rose took exception to the foul, then teammate Joakim Noah did, then the usually mild-mannered Luol Deng got in Hansbrough's face and earned a technical foul.
"When you're out there and you think it's a dirty foul or a dirty play, you've got to say something," Rose said. "If you don't, they're going to continue to do it. Luol; and a couple of my teammates, they did what they're supposed to do."
Staying in character, Deng didn't make a big deal about his retaliation technical.
"I don't think Tyler is a dirty player or anything," he said. "I think it's part of their game plan when Derrick drives, instead of just fouling him, to really whack him. It happened a couple times in the first half. It happened the last time we played them in Indiana. Not that I think it's dirty or any of them are dirty, it's just a reaction."
Indiana missed the technical free throw, Rose made both of his and the Bulls were within 91-88. Then it was Hansbrough's turn to retaliate -- jumper, jumper, strip of Carlos Boozer leading to a fastbreak dunk and 3-point play. His personal 7-0 run sent Indiana to the 10-point lead and the game appeared to be over.
The Pacers scored just once more, though, on a Roy Hibbert free throw. Faced with a sense of desperation, the Bulls salvaged an amazing victory.
"We have faith and confidence if we keep working the game, working the game, we'll get some breaks and that's what happened at the end," Boozer said.
Whether this turns out to be a wake-up call for the Bulls or a sign that the series will be struggle remains to be seen. Vogel suggested the latter.
"We should have won this game," said Indiana's coach, who took over the job on Jan. 30. "We've been playing as well as anybody in the NBA the last few weeks and this is going to be a series."