INDIANAPOLIS — Not many statements can be made five games into an NBA season. The grueling 82-game schedule simply doesn’t allow it. The bigger picture always looms. The playoffs are where teams make names for themselves, not November.
The Indiana Pacers were staring one of those rare opportunities in the face on Wednesday night, as Central division rival Chicago Bulls visited Bankers Life Fieldhouse for an early season tussle.
While “rivalry” gets tossed around when these two teams meet, not each side views the term in the same light. Sure, both sides are battling for the top spot in the Eastern conference and both want to knock off the Miami Heat. However, the Bulls don’t necessarily see the Pacers as equals. At least that’s how their most valuable player saw it earlier this year.
“People say that it’s a rivalry, but I don’t really see it,” Derrick Rose said before the season began.
That statement must have stuck with the Pacers, as they rode a dominant fourth quarter and even more impressive defense to a 97-80 victory.
While the message among this Pacers team continues to be to focus on that number one seed in the Eastern conference, Wednesday night’s win was special in more ways than one. A lot of it had to do with the small amount of red that could be seen around the arena. Bulls fans were constantly drowned out by the far larger group of Pacers faithful.
“I just know the history when we play this team,” Paul George said after the game. “How much Chicago fans show up, that should never happen. It’s not like that in their arena.”
George once again gave Pacers fans plenty to cheer for. He led all Indiana scorers with 21 points, was perfect from the free throw line, and even helped put the clamps on Rose in the fourth quarter. It’s obvious that 23 year-old George wants the spotlight, wants to be the best. That’s why he wouldn’t let the opportunity to show it pass by.
“I wanted that match up,” George said of guarding Rose. “I feel like I can stay in front of everyone and guard everyone in this league. I wasn’t going to let him get hot on us.”
Much like the previous four contests this season for the Pacers, Lance Stephenson provided the sidekick production to George’s superstar performance. Although he struggled early, it was his offensive output in the fourth quarter that propelled the Pacers on that end of the floor. 12 of Stephenson’s 15 points came in the deciding quarter.
“I had a terrible start and I felt like I needed to stick with it,” Stephenson said. “My teammates on the bench told me to keep playing, don’t worry about it, you’re going to have games like this.”
Stephenson heard the message loud and clear as he ended the night with 17 attempts.
“No hesitation,” Stephenson replied when asked if there was any. “You got to keep shooting. That’s what my shooting coach told me.”
The Pacers exit Wednesday night’s battle with the Bulls still undefeated. They’re the final team remaining in the NBA with a perfect record. And although Frank Vogel made clear it’s a long season, his team made an early season statement.
A statement that, along with the overall play of the Pacers, will surely ring throughout the league.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer for the Indy Sports Report. Follow Brandon and ISR on Twitter.
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