The Pacers season comes to a close as fishing season begins. (via TNT’s Inside the NBA)
Game 5 was an unfortunate and anticlimactic end to what was otherwise a fun, competitive series. But it proved what we all knew: one of these teams is for real and the other is the Indiana Pacers.
Danny Granger, as he did throughout the postseason, kept the Indiana attack afloat early, forcing his way to the hoop for 11 of his team’s 25 first-quarter points. (He finished the game with 20 points on 16 shots, 6 boards, 3 assists and 3 turnovers.) Despite the best efforts of their captain, who shot 43-for-90 (47.8%) in his five-game playoff run, the early hole was one the Pacers would never climb out of. The Bulls never trailed in this one after a hot start and it really was never even a game.
As in a few of the other games against Chicago, they could never get their offense going.
Roy Hibbert was again little more than patio furniture, oscillating between ineffectiveness and foul trouble early. To his credit, he did help spark the only thing we can even really consider a run, scoring 6 points coming out of half time as the Pacers cut the Bulls lead to 4 at one point. But he and his teammates couldn’t establish him down low and he turned the ball over twice in 9 third quarter minutes, which together only allowed him to get three looks from the paint in period.
Tyler Hansbrough was aggressive in the paint (8-for-9 from the line), but maybe more than in any game I can recall off hand, his limitations were on full display. Perhaps it was the fact that loud-softy Carlos Boozer spent so little time on the floor or perhaps it was just one of those nights, but regardless, Tyler was unable to create any clean looks. Every way he tried to hurl the ball at the rim was stymied. He was a wind-up car running into a wall. Nothing he tried worked. But he had nothing else to try so he just tried the same thing again. That type of motor is a good thing, but sometimes it looks like he’s having a series of mini-strokes out there rather than making a basketball play. After his surreal Game 1, he finished the series shooting 10-for-41 (24.4%) in the last four. Not so helpful.
Darren Collison continued doing his “not not solid but not not unmemorable” thing and added in one stretch of ugly futility during the third quarter, of which he played all 12 minutes. Didn’t sit — but didn’t really score, didn’t really fuel the offense and definitely didn’t really guard anyone. This felt similar to about 50% of the games we saw out of him this season. Some aging and some offseason work can hopefully lower that rate.
Paul George’s continued woeful inefficiency on offense will likely again be excused by his primary assignment of guarding Derrick Rose. But since he didn’t even do that particularly well on this night, it’s worth highlighting that his 2-for-8 shooting night dropped his five-game total to 10-for-33 (30.3%). Combine that with Tyler’s terrible production in series and we’re looking at two of the Pacers starters making 19 FGs from Game 2 through Game 5. That’s less than 5 makes combined per game from 40% of your starting lineup. That’s asking the other three guys to do a lot — and lest we forget one of those other three guys has the last name Hibbert. (Tyler and Roy combined to cough up 8 of the team’s are-you-serious 20 turnovers.)
Off the bench, Dahntay Jones added a semblance of a spark. So did AJ Price. But Jeff Foster wasn’t himself, Josh McRoberts’ best play was getting himself thrown out of the game for back-hand flailing at Joakim Noah (who Granger called “cowardly”) and Mike Dunleavy spent the last 19 minutes he ever will play in a Pacers jersey doing exactly nothing of interest. Brandon Rush made a few shots but was otherwise himself.
So … OK … The Indiana Pacers couldn’t execute or score. This isn’t altogether shocking. They’ve failed to be able to score against much worse defenses than Chicago’s all year long.
The real issue was the other end.
They have played poorly on offense in a few of these games and still been right there. The difference was that their defense fell apart in comparison to the other nights. In fairness, let’s first remember that Keith Bogans hit 5 of the 7 threes he took. Can’t blame anyone for that. If you asked most opposing coaches before the game whether or not they would want Keith I-Presume-His-Middle-Name-Is-Front-Iron Bogans to take 7 threes — even in an open gym — they would just smile and nod uncontrollably, unable to even speak due to gleeful euphoria like that of a puppy hearing a can opener. Additionally, the Pacers turned Boozer into a complete no-show — almost literally considering his 1-for-5 shooting in 16 minutes. (He was in foul trouble all night.)
His teammates were clearly excited about his play and happy to celebrate. (via @JohnCTownsend)
The only other caveat we need to put on the Pacers weak defensive showing is that the turnovers didn’t help. They gave up 34 points on possessions where they gave the ball away. That’s a ton and some of that helped the Bulls score 17 points off of transition and finish the game with a blistering 123.4 points-per-100-possession scoring rate. Oddly, the Pacers did manage to keep them off the offensive glass again, however, only surrendering 8 all night.
Other than that, Chicago did whatever it wanted.
In Frank Vogel speak, there was plenty of mouth out there but no smash.
Joakim Noah, in particular, was just on another plane from an energy and aggressiveness perspective. Likely high on adrenaline and emotion from having his grandfather in the stands watching him play professional basketball for the first time ever, he was a ball of napalm. He was acting like a fool, sure, but dead-ball situations aside, he was just more active than the whole Pacers front line — something that was more immeasurably helpful than anything else but still translated to 9 FTAs and 4 blocks on the stat sheet. (By contrast, he averaged 3.9 FTAs and 1.5 blocks per game on year.) Joakim is one of the best defensive players in the NBA, and everyone in the building, including the coolest man in attendance, became well aware as to why if they didn’t know already.
Derrick Rose was brilliant. So much for having a gimpy ankle. He hit 8 of his 17 shots, getting into the lane for 4 buckets in the paint to go along with 4 long jumpers (including 3 threes). He was all over the court on the defensive end as well, forcing a few steals and, most memorably, making the 7’2″ Hibbert look like he was 2’7″ when Rose blocked Roy’s shot at the rim. Splendid “how DARE you question me?” bounce-back game for him after two stinkers.
Luol Deng continued to play like perhaps the most overlooked player in the league. 24 points (on 14 shots and 8 trips to the line), 6 boards, 7 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. And don’t forget the high-level defense and even-keeled, play-within-the-offense decision-making. For all the things in the series you could point to that have made the Bulls look vulnerable as a contender, Deng’s play serves as a huge counter-argument. He was — tonight and throughout the playoffs — superb.
You may have noticed that, in recapping this loss, I’ve focused more on the individual contributions than the team nuances. Really, this is what the game and this series was about. One team had 4 of the 5 best players in the series and the other had Danny Granger, some interesting role players who poured their hearts into virtually every play and an “Aww Shucks … Why Not Us?” plucky young coach who got a band of underachievers to believe that they could hang.
It would be disingenuous to call this one a “gentleman’s sweep” considering that every game aside from the final one was in the balance in the final minute. But the simple fact is that one team had the players that could make plays and the other did not. The way we got to a 4-1 Bulls series win was unexpected, but the result was not.
Fun series though. And it should be a fun offseason.
Let’s not let one discouraging game change the whole narrative of the last week and a half.
Topics: Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Derrick Rose, Game Recap, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pacers Vs. Bulls 2011 Playoffs, Pacers Vs. Bulls 2011 Playoffs: Game 5, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough