Pacers Drop Game 3 But Validate Playoff Berth

When it came down to needing a bucket, Derrick Rose did what he does best and got to the rack. Just before that, the Pacers went to what they do best when they need a score: nothing.

That was the story of crunch time in a game they lost 88-84.

The Pacers have no reliable offense. In Game 1, the pick-and-pop with Tyler Hansbrough abusing Carlos Boozer’s lack of defensive acumen worked. But that’s not sustainable nor has it been a bread-and-butter play for Indiana to go to when they need a score. It has been effective at times, as we saw earlier in the regular season when he was recording back-to-back career highs against the Knicks, but it’s not a reliable option. At least not when the defense is keyed in it isn’t, something this franchise has seen somewhat over the first 82 games in recent years, but never to this degree, in a playoff setting, in five seasons.

Danny Granger is an excellent scorer throughout a game. And we saw tonight that when he can get separation — on occasion, something he can manufacture by himself — he is a big time shooter. He was stellar throughout the fourth quarter and did enough to keep his team in a position to win. In the regular season, much like he did tonight, he hits the shots that he should make. But he never has been, nor will he ever be, a guy you can give the ball to and say “score.” He is gritty, confident and willing. He is a cocky guy who will never doubt his ability to be a top-line scorer in this league. Making something happen when there is nothing there, however, is simply not his forte as a basketball player. He does many very-good things on offense, but that is just not one of them. And that’s OK.

But for this team, one that has no reliable post game and no reliable penetrators and no reliable offensive sets when points are their most difficult to find, Granger is going to take the rap for not getting a better shot on that final Pacers set. I’m sure he’s fine with this. It’s his team and he, therefore, should and will take a lot of the blame for not being something he isn’t.

But this team played high-level defense in a lose throughout most of the 48 minutes played tonight. They again hung with a better team. They just simply, again, fell victim to their own fatal flaws — as well as a series of back-breaking buckets from Bulls MVP (tonight) Luol Deng and Kyle Korver.

Deng, who scored 21 while playing nearly the whole game, hit several huge shots in all quarters, one of which that was particularly deflating as the shot clock was waning while the Pacers played good D for 23 seconds. And Korver was, again, the X-factor. He hit 5 of the 6 shots he took. His threes exhilarated the Bulls offense, sure, but most evident of how good a game this historically great shooter just had was the possession during which AJ Price closed out well to challenge a shot he had behind the line, and he simply faked the three, dribbled in and hit a banker from 10 feet. That’s poise. That’s control. That’s winning basketball.

The story of Game 3 is going to come down to Rose’s Hall of Fame-level drive on the Bulls’ last significant offensive possession. And I guess that’s fine. He stared down Dahntay Jones, who played very good basketball tonight, and didn’t settle for anything the Pacers wanted him to do, instead getting all the way to the hoop for a lay-up. It was his 4th field goal of the evening, and two of this others were tough threes that the Pacers were happy to let him shoot. Good on him for making those two tough looks and way-uber-good on him for doing what he does best in winning time.

But it wasn’t Derrick Rose that beat Indiana tonight.

What beat them was their own inability to create good offense when it matters. What beat them was a superior team that through the gutsy, unwavering will of its superior player — and I don’t just mean on the court in this game, I mean perhaps superior to any other player in the NBA right now — made a play just seconds after the Pacers proved unable to do so.

Going back to earlier in the game rather than focusing on the final minute, however, Indiana competed very well. They even played well at times while doing this.

They did a lot of what they needed to do defensively in the first half, for example. Deng and Rose hit some big threes that buoyed the Bulls shooting percentage and point total, but they trapped Derrick effectively in the pick-and-roll and, most importantly, kept Chicago off of the offensive glass — finally. They only gave up 4 offensive boards on 19 missed shots. Chicago still managed to get a 9-0 edge on second chance points, which means they did convert their opportunities, but they did have fewer chances than they had been averaging by a large margin. Indiana also forced 12 turnovers, which was huge and helped them get a 10-3 advantage in transition points, including 6-0 in the second quarter.

They were also aggressive on both ends, forcing the refs to make calls, many of which went in their favor. All four of the Bulls starters who deserve to be NBA starters (you know who you are, Keith Bogans) finished the half with 2 fouls. This only translated to 7 Indy free throw attempts in the opening half, as both the calls against Rose and multiple others were offensive fouls on Chicago, but it set a tone in which the Pacers stayed physical. And Deng picked up his third early in the third while trying to prevent George from putting down a highlight dunk on the break.

What I’m trying to get at here is that Indiana did not play the type of timid, jump-shooting game that we have seen so often throughout the past six months. Anyone who saw the fouls handed out by, and general presence of, veterans Jeff Foster and Dahntay Jones can attest to this. Even the somewhat-hobbled Darren Collison was not backing down by any means. Tyler and Danny never relented. Josh McRoberts had an excellent first half. Paul George appeared to relish the challenge of guarding Derrick Rose and applied pressure all night.

It’s just that none of this was enough on a night when several Bulls players kept making the plays necessary to stay in control of the game. That’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Ultimately, once again, in the midst of what is, and always was, probably an un-winnable series in terms of talent, Game 3 showed shades of what Pacers fans should be excited about in the years to come. The Bulls as a cohesive team are so far beyond where the Pacers are right now that talking about the clutch stuff, the times when good teams loaded with talent truly separate themselves from those middling squads with some guts, isn’t all that relevant here.

Derrick did what no one on the Pacer is able to do. Granger isn’t capable of that stuff. And everyone else on this roster is so incapable of it that mentioning them by name isn’t even necessary.

But for the third straight game, the Pacers had a chance to win late. This despite everything mentioned (and all the best efforts Roy Hibbert made during his his 24 minutes to prevent this from happening, it must be documented).

And that’s something almost no one on this planet, including the guy typing this sentence, thought was possible. That seems like something Indiana — and its fans — can hold their heads high about.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Game Recap Pacers Vs. Bulls 2011 Playoffs Pacers Vs. Bulls 2011 Playoffs: Game 3

  • mathis

    that was one hell a game. not a fan of any certain team, just good basketball. and the pacers are a team im gonna be watching from now on

  • Daniel

    I’ve been reading your blog basically since I have known the Bulls would be playing the Pacers in the playoffs, and don’t get me wrong, I like your blog and I think your game analysis, is wonderful, but I think you are missing one thing. The Bulls in every game, have played far below their potential. The Pacers, in every game, have probably played in most areas better then expected, and still cannot win. Now, you might wonder if it wasn’t for DRose, the Pacers would be up 3-0 but remember, the Bulls aren’t the top seed without DRose. I do give the Pacers credit, they have not rolled over and died, and they easily could have after losing game one. They have shown tremendous heart, although when both teams play their best I believe the Bulls would just steamroll the Pacers. I fully expect to see the Bulls turn it on for the next round, against a team that will punish them for their mistakes.

  • mathis

    i was watching the game. you talk about the bulls playing at their best. the defense the Pacers played made that the best the Bulls could play. ive been reading the bulls blogs too and the fans seem too think that the Bulls can just blow them out. hasn’t happened yet and it won’t happen unless the Pacers give up because they’re down 3-0. their good enough to hang with the the bulls, but not good enough to beat them. in due time they will be. this is just gaining experience. the Bulls won’t make it past the Magic or the Heat if they play this type of hard nosed defense and they are even more talented

  • Marc

    Keep reading blogs and listening to other ‘fans’ Mathis, rather than actually watching most of the games. You watch one game and seem so confident with your assessment. Look the Bulls look sluggish – I’ll give you that. But to be honest, they look sort of bored (microcosm of the season as a whole) throughout games until they have their backs’ against the walls. Look back at some of the games against the lesser teams this season and you’ll notice we tend to falter against them.


  • http://N/A Grant

    I honestly feel that the Pacers did not lose tonight due to a deficiency of talent, at least if we take talent to be a measure of what a player and team COULD be. The Pacers lost tonight because the Bulls are a more mature team, a team which has more total cohesion than the Pacers, and a team which has been better coached than the Pacers all year. We can’t do a lot about the first two, not any more than is possible by simply competing and maybe winning a game or two in this series. I hope, however, that we do something about the last one this offseason.

    I do not mean to belittle anything that Frank Vogel has done since taking over for Jim O’Brien, and perhaps he could have done more if he had the time to set up his own offensive system. I believe that Frank Vogel was precisely what the Pacers needed when we fired Jim O’Brien. He was positive, upbeat, confident, and he pushed his players to play hard and play well by encouraging them. After O’Brien, that was precisely what we needed. The middle of the season is not a great time to overhaul anything, although he did put in some significant changes by simply opening up the offense. However, we have executed poorly on offense nearly all season, and the problems we have right now are simply a return of that chronic illness.

    Poor execution is generally due to one or more of three things: lack of focus, poor effort, or poor coaching. Our Pacers haven’t lacked effort at any point in this series. While we can obviously see that they have at times lacked focus (a fact which is explainable by the relative youth, lack of playoff experience, and other obvious factors), I think that we can safely determine that focus is not the primary cause of the problem. The Pacers have, after all, executed very well defensively all series. The system has called for a few things which, in retrospect, did not work, but the players have executed the system. There is no reason to believe that we would simply be better able to focus defensively than offensively for the duration of the series.

    Given this, the only remaining explanation is coaching. Whether it is the offensive system itself which is fatally flawed, only being under Vogel’s system for 1/3 of the year, or something as simple as poorly designed plays during crucial possessions in crunch time, I do not know. However, my experience watching basketball tells me that it has not been focus or effort which led to our poor offensive performance. That just leaves coaching.

  • mellifluous

    What’s amazing to me is that the Pacers have really only been a good team this season when Roy Hibbert has been good. Tim has done a nice job documenting this. Hibbert, as you hint at, has been atrocious to the extent that you wonder why Jeff Foster didn’t start 82 games. I’d have never guessed that the Pacers could be competitive while getting a negative contribution from Hibbert.

    @Daniel – Of course if the Bulls played their best they’d steamroll the Pacers. If you look at the top 5 players in the series, 4 of them are on the Bulls. When there’s that much of a talent disparity, there’s never a question of who would win if both teams played their best. What’s happening, though, is a series of hard-fought, close games. It’s something that should give Pacer fans reasons to smile and Bulls fans reasons to wonder.

    @Grant – O’Brien had installed a motion, passing-game offense because he knew there was not enough offensive talent on the roster to be effective in a more traditional NBA system. That was also the reason for O’Brien pushing for early shots and transition buckets. He knew they would have a lot of trouble scoring against set defenses (especially if their only semblance of a post threat pulls one of his disappearing acts). Vogel has scrapped most of what O’Brien was doing, but he hasn’t put a lot in it’s place. The general line of thinking is that this is acceptable because he hasn’t had a training camp to work with. I can somewhat believe this. A wise friend recently mentioned to me in a similar discussion that if Vogel was the coach next year and didn’t come back with a significantly improved offense he’d be fired within 18 months. I agree.

  • Adam

    Vogel is keeping the Pacers in this by making them play very hard. Not going to complain about the refs in game 3…but do you want the Bulls getting away with all of that against Granger? Kurt Thomas is every bit as capable of drop elbowing a player on his head or smacking him in the face. He’s done it before for other teams he was on. If it’s not going to be a flagrant…hellz perhaps the first play should be accidentally breaking Granger’s grill with an elbow.

    Doesn’t matter though.

    As far as end of game…the Pacers just do not have the talent to close. At all. Playing hard…a little dirty helps through the middle of a game…but when there are 3 minutes until everyone goes home for the night? It’s useless. Bulls have won 62 games…and many of them were like this. Hang, hang, hang…Rose closes. It’s why he wins the MVP.

  • Pingback: Game 3 Recap: Bulls 88, Pacers 84 » By The Horns

  • Daniel

    Admittedly, due to various reasons, I have not seen one game in this series, I only know based on the videos I have seen online, or articles, or whatnot, but this series reminds me of the Bulls series two years ago against Boston, where B was clearly the better team, but because the Bulls had an incredibly hot hand in Ben Gordon, and even in game one DRose, they were able to take three out of seven, and the playoff experience that Rose got is what he is using now to shutout the Pacers from winning. The only difference is, the Pacers don’t have a closer yet, and I don’t know if there is one on this roster, at least I don’t know if there is anyone on this roster that will be truly special like Rose is.

  • Manfred James

    There are not very many “truly special” players in the NBA. Iso specialists who can take over a game, score at will, lead their teammates, etc.
    If teams needed a player such as this to win, only five or six would even have a chance. But thats how the NBA works. I guess we cannot hope to compete.
    Maybe in another 30 years.

  • Pingback: Pacers vs. Bulls Spiderwebs – Game 3

  • Pingback: The Point Forward » Posts Court Vision: The latest around the league «

  • A Bulls Fan

    You guys should be very proud of this Pacers team. They’re young, tough, and spirited. If I were a Pacers fan, I would be very excited about their future.