Chances are, we will never again see Danny Granger quite so happy after a 2-for-10 shooting night in a home loss to a bitter rival.
Even a preseason loss, though the Pacers’ 82-76 loss to the Bulls Saturday at a raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse felt more like the first game of a playoff series than an exhibition opener.
For Granger, it was a giant first step in his comeback from major knee surgery last April. He not only played, he played nearly 29 minutes off the bench. Truth be told, that was the only number on his stat line (which also showed six points, zero rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, one steal) with any relevance at all.
“A good first step,” Granger said, unable to contain a smile. “My second wind didn’t kick in the first half like it usually does but it was good to get that one under my belt. Baby steps.”
For the national media on hand, the game was about the return of Derrick Rose, and the Chicago point guard did not disappoint. He scored 13 points in 20 minutes, showed the same explosive open-court speed, the same ability to hang in the air and finish at the rim – including a dunk – and the same erratic jump shot.
For the Pacers, the only meaningful development of the night was Granger’s ability to play extended minutes with no ill effects, aside from an errant jump shot.“He looked a little rusty, clearly, and I wouldn’t expect anything besides that,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “What I saw is he looked healthy. He looked like he was moving fine, cutting fine, playing hard. The game timing, the game conditioning is part of this month’s process of what we call the final phase of his recovery.”
Aside from Granger’s return, the Pacers had little smile about. They shot just 33 percent – including 2-for-16 in the fourth quarter. Though the defense was strong, the offense was sloppy.
Chicago shot 10-for-36 and committed 13 turnovers in the second and third periods, but the Pacers only managed to add five points to their lead, which was a mere six, 64-58, entering the fourth quarter.
Once the Bulls started scoring, the lead vanished, even though Vogel left his starters on the floor until clearing the bench with an eight-point deficit and less than three minutes remaining.
The new bench was largely ineffective, combining for 8-of-34 shooting. The Pacers were outrebounded 56-38 and yielded 20 fast-break points.
“We’ve still got some work to do, obviously,” Vogel said. “Saw a lot of good things but clearly in the game transition defense wasn’t good enough and our defensive rebounding wasn’t good enough. Offensive execution was OK but we missed a lot of bunnies at the rim. We’ll be all right.”
Given the way these two teams attacked each other, there is little doubt the rivalry is very much alive — and the Pacers will have a mighty battle on their hands simply to defend their Central Division crown.
Paul George played the fewest minutes (18) of the Pacers’ starters, but only because he was in foul trouble. The rest all played at least 24 minutes. Chicago’s starters all played more than 20 minutes, unusually high numbers for the first week of preseason.
“Even though it’s a preseason game we know we’re going to be rivals at the end and we kind of approached it that way,” Granger said. “The game was way more physical than a normal preseason game. Both teams were trying to win.”
The Pacers did not, but that did not dampen the warm glow generated by Granger’s return.