For the first 44 minutes, Indiana flat out-played Chicago. This is a truth fact of science best evidenced by them holding future 2010-11 NBA MVP Derrick Rose, who was hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in the first quarter, to 6-for-22 shooting. (He started off the game well, but went 3-for-16 following the injury.) They also played well enough in the first 44 minutes to hold the whole Bulls team to a sub-Cleveland Cavaliers-level offensive rating of 95.5 points per 100 possessions. That’s just dreadful production from the #1 seed.
But after that? Not so much.
If you didn’t see the attempted meltdown, it’s going to be hard to do it justice without expletives, gestures and eye-rolling. And since I probably can’t set the scene of their epic near-collapse in the waning minutes any better than he did, here’s how Mark Montieth summed up the victory.
They finished the regular season with a losing record, they finish games as if they’re wearing blindfolds and they nearly finished their season with an embarrassing collapse on Saturday.
The Pacers turned the ball over 6 times and shot an embarrassing 4-for-13 (30.7%) in the fourth quarter. The whole final 12 minutes — and entire second half, really — was statistically ugly for Indy’s offense. But they again out-did themselves in crunch time.
They led by 16 (82-66) with 3:45 to go, but would only hit one more field goal and score just 7 more points. Chicago, by contrast, added 18 more and came within an inch — care of a missed Carlos Boozer three-pointer — of forcing overtime.
It’s really, really hard to blow a 16-point lead that quickly in this sport.
It takes unfathomable decisions like allowing Josh McRoberts to bring the ball up the floor (a possession during which Rose straight picked his pocket). You need to brainlessly commit clear path fouls that give the opposition free points and the ball back (like McRoberts did about two seconds later). You must try to thread needles with weak bounce passes (like Darren Collison did in a pick-and-roll with Roy Hibbert). You need to barely pay attention enough to allow the other team’s best player to just take the ball from you (like Collison did before, in his defense, hustling down the floor and swatting Rose’s fast-break layup attempt). And you must — this is vital, so pay attention, young’ns — let the 24-second shot clock expire on back-to-back possessions to ensure that no one on the team even accidentally scores points by making a shot when they were, as it seemed, just trying to break the rim with jumpers.
It took a fustercluck orchestra of symphonic incompetence that better resembled an ostrich learning to roller skate than five professional grown men attempting to play basketball.
And if not for Danny Granger’s ability to make 4 out of 4 free throws in the final 15 seconds — one of which came after McRoberts was inexplicably trusted, not far removed from the play we discussed two paragraphs ago mind you, to inbound the basketball — the Pacers players would now be planning their summer fishing trips, having likely erased almost all the positive vibes and goodwill they earned from their fans and the NBA community at large by so intrepidly battling the Bulls over the past four games.
Instead, they only did that a little bit. And they now have at least one more game this season.
Plus, there is other good news.
As mentioned above, the Pacers smacked the Bulls in the mouth the rest of the game. They poured it on early, using some inspired defense from rookie two-guard Paul George (who scored 9 points on 4-for-7 shooting to go with his 5 rebounds and 2 steals) to create some easy buckets and grab a 7-point lead. After Rose went down with a sprained ankle, the reserves maintained the lead through much of the second quarter before the Bulls pushed back with a 6-0 run that closed their deficit to two points.
Granger (24 points, 10 boards, 4 assists), Collison (shot 2-for-11), Roy Hibbert (16 points, 50% shooing, 10 boards) and Tyler Hasbrough (played gross) re-entered the game and countered that with a 15-1 run of their own. Staunch defense ruled the half, during which Chicago only managed 33 points on 12 made field goals (33.3% shooting on 12-for-36).
Things got a little rockier in the third when the Bulls made 10 field goals and forced 3 turnovers, but Granger (who scored scored 7 points on 3-for-4 shooting in the period to go along with 2 assists and 4 boards) and Hibbert (6 points on 3-for-4) did enough to have the Pacers up 11 going into the final 12 minutes.
Then what I already told you happened happened.
It’s a shame because with a normal conclusion to this one, Indiana’s postseason narrative of plucky underdog playing its best basketball of the season in the playoffs would have reached new heights. I don’t think anyone would be talking about the first team to ever win a series after trailing 0-3 or anything, but there would be those silly back-of-the-mind thoughts of “maybe Rose’s ankle prevents him from playing Game 5. Then Pacers are back home for Game 6. Then …”
Instead the story is that Indiana did its best to lose and couldn’t even do that right. (Rim shot.)
No matter. A team that has played well enough in this series to win at least a game or two now has a victory. That just seems just.
And now it’s off to Chicago, a place that Rose will be happy to play.
While he obviously would like to be going home with a victory, nonetheless Derrick Rose must be relieved to be heading back to Chicago.
After averaging over 37.5 points per game over the first two games of the series, Rose scored just 19 per game in Indiana, while shooting only 25 percent from the field.
He has shot under 30 percent from the field in consecutive games for only the second time in his career, regular season or postseason. The only other time it happened was back in December of 2008 during his rookie year.
No matter the location of the game Rose has really struggled with his three-point shot, seen as the biggest improvement in his game during the regular season.
Rose made only one of his nine three-point field goal attempts this game, and is just 5-for-29 from three-point range throughout the series. In fact he is shooting just 26.8 percent on field goal attempts outside of five feet (15-for-56)
His reliance on the three has to be what’s most alarming as he has taken over seven three-point field goals per game so far this postseason. He averaged fewer than five attempts per game throughout the regular season.
Some pretty crazy numbers that suggest that the Pacers — and by watching them, perhaps the rest of the league — have found a way to slow down what looked like an unstoppable force on par with gravity and entropy for the first two games of this series.
And it’s not like playing in Chicago should be a big change. From what I hear, at least two-thirds of the fans in Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday were cheering for the Bulls anyway.
The crowd shocked Pacers center Jeff Foster, who has played for the Pacers for his entire 12-year NBA career.
“I have seen every professional game in this arena, and I have never seen anything like that,” he said.
Perhaps Hoosiers can make a better showing in Game 6, provided the Pacers players, ya know, cooperate and again out-play the Bulls on Tuesday. A week ago, that statement would be absurd.
But now? Not so much.