CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls' standards have gotten so high this season that even playoff wins don't feel quite as good when the team knows it's not playing its best.
Obviously, after two games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, the Bulls know they aren't playing their best. Unlike the celebratory atmosphere after the Game 1 victory on Saturday, the Bulls locker room was quiet and almost somber after Monday night's 96-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Most players just sat in front of their lockers in silence, pondering how they could get better before Thursday night's Game 3.
"A win is a win," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "But to be a good team and to get to where we want to get to, we got to be honest with ourselves and look at the mistakes and try to get better. But at the same time, we took care of the job."
That seemed to be the prevailing from most players in the cramped room. Yes, the Bulls did enough to win, but they know they can be better. They know they have to be better.
"It just feels great," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I think we have a great team, and we have a lot of talent, but there's no question that we have to step it up, and we have to play better basketball, but I'll take two [wins] all day."
Same goes for Carlos Boozer.
"I think we're OK," he said. "We're up 2-0 in the series. I think we can make improvements to be better in the series, and we will."
Like most fans throughout the night, the Bulls players themselves were trying to figure out how a team that has set a tone with its rugged play could be outplayed for a majority of two games by a pesky Pacers club.
"I don't know," Deng said. "I can't tell you. We got to be more patient, smarter, and play a better team game ... We didn't make smart plays offensively and defensively."
But they did get a win, and that's all Noah was trying to remind himself and his teammates as they left the United Center.
"I'm excited, man," he said. "I mean, relief? No, I don't see it as relief. I'm happy. I think we're in the NBA playoffs, we're playing in front of a great home crowd. We just haven't played well yet. But we haven't played [well] yet, [and we're] still up 2-0, and we're going to make adjustments. And we're definitely going to play better basketball when it counts."
So what does it say about the Bulls that they can play like this and still win two games?
"Like we've been saying all year, we have really high character on this team," Noah said. "It's funny how people always [say], "Oh, you guys are going to smack [them]. People are just automatically expecting us to just beat down on teams. That's what we want to do, but sometimes it's not going to happen, and you're going to find a way to win these games as well."
That's what the Bulls did again on Monday night. And as far as Noah is concerned, no matter how bad some of his teammates feel, that's all that matters right now.