Bulls fans have Pacers seeing red

INDIANAPOLIS -- Jeff Foster joined the Indiana Pacers the same season Conseco Fieldhouse opened, so he’s seen everything the team has experienced for the last 12 seasons.

He saw something completely new Saturday, however, when the Pacers and Bulls met in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series. Bulls fans filled 50-60 percent of the building, creating a bizarre environment that might have been unprecedented in NBA history.

“I’ve never seen it like that,” Foster said following Indiana’s 89-84 victory. “It’s a testament to the Bulls fans and how well they travel.

“We still have something to prove to [Pacers] fans. There’s been a lull the last several years and not everybody may know what we’re up to and what we’ve been capable of in these playoffs so far.”

Pacers forward Danny Granger’s assessment was less diplomatic.

“It pissed me off,” he said.

The pro-Bulls contingent made it feel less like a playoff game and more like a high school rivalry. There were red shirts everywhere. So many, in fact, that the Pacers were booed by a large section of the sell-out crowd during the opening introductions. Chants of "let's go Bulls” and "MVP" for Derrick Rose were audible throughout the game.

"That was amazing," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "But every game we lose we feel like we let people down. I hear from people from some countries I haven't heard of, Bulls fans, when you lose you're kind of disappointed you let them down. But we love our fans. It's been a great year. We lost today, but it's all right."

The Pacers, playing in the postseason for the first time since 2006, ranked last in the NBA in attendance during the regular season. They only sold out six games -- the home opener against Philadelphia and those against the Lakers, Boston, Miami and two against the Bulls -- which explains why owner Herb Simon wasn’t angry. Better for a crowd to be red than dead.

Bulls fans dominated the signage and color categories, and often in volume as well. Given the proximity of many of the Bulls fans to the court, it was obvious several Pacers season-ticket holders put theirs up for sale.

One thing is for sure. Tyler Hansbrough never saw such an invasion from Duke fans when he played at North Carolina.

“It was kind of overwhelming, to me to be honest with you,” Hansbrough said.

Disappointing, too?

“A little bit,” he said. “The fans who were here did a great job for us. We’d like to see an overwhelming Pacers crowd, but we haven’t had the year [the Bulls] had, so you can’t expect that.”

Carlos Boozer said Bulls fans traveling well is nothing new.

"Most places that we go to, they're either chanting ‘Go Bulls,’ or ‘MVP’ for D. Rose," Boozer said. "So for us it's been more normal than abnormal."

The fan breakdown was somewhat reminiscent of Pacers-Bulls games at Market Square Arena here in the late 1980s, when the Pacers were having losing seasons and Michael Jordan’s fame was taking a grip on the NBA. Pacers rookie Paul George, in fact, gave some credit to Jordan for Saturday’s split.

“They got a lot of fans off the Michael Jordan era who have continued to be fans,” George said. “I was still happy with the fans who showed up for us. I think they battled them for loudness.”

None of the Pacers expressed bitterness over their lack of support. Foster is the only team member who goes back to the days when sellouts were the norm, so the others have learned not to lean too heavily on the lungs of their fans.

“We’ve had the mentality for so long that we’re the underdog in every game,” A.J. Price said. “It’s always good to have some fans, but if they’re not on our side it doesn’t affect us too much.”