Before Game 3, A.J. Price addressed the urgency of winning and making it a series by saying, "It’s not over if we lose this game, but I mean, it’s over if we lose this game." And that’s the best way to describe the Indiana Pacers’ position after falling to 0-3 in another déjà vu loss to the Chicago Bulls. Being down 0-3 is nothing but a temporary purgatory; no NBA team has erased the deficit, and without a closer, it’ll be impossible to.
Indiana once again couldn’t make the plays down the stretch the Bulls did. A bounce here and bounce there could make this series a shocking 3-0, but close doesn’t count in basketball. For the game, what’s there to say? The Pacers played winning basketball again, but were unable to keep pace with the Bulls down the stretch. Indiana frustrated Derrick Rose early and often, but in his absence, Luol Deng made some big shots.
His shots were much the same problem that has presented itself for the Pacers. In choosing to limit the effectiveness of Rose, the Pacers have found themselves short on the rebounding edge and in rotating back to open shooters. It’s an extremely difficult situation to put yourself in, but a necessary one if you hope to keep Rose essentially in check.
The Pacers weren’t at their sharpest offensively. They were struggling to get the necessary shots to push the tempo and lead all night, but the Bulls defense also played their best game of the series as well. The result was a slugfest of the ugliest kind, unfortunately the exact type of game Chicago excels at. Both teams finished under 40% for the night, and it showed.
Indiana hung close the entire night. Every time the Bulls looked to make a push, the Pacers defense was the one to step up and make big plays. The Pacers played their best defense of the entire season tonight, Paul George was once again masterful on Rose, and the Pacers once again played above the level they’d shown at any point this year. Who is this team and where were they for stretches a couple of months ago?
Dahntay Jones provided a huge lift for the team in the second half, scoring 11 points that were key in getting Indiana a five point lead in the fourth (familiar?). The Bulls responded with a ten point run, fueled by Derrick Rose free throws and Kyle Korver jumpers. The Pacers were in a difficult situation down the stretch as Danny Granger caught fire. But it wasn't enough as the Bulls were using Rose drives that got to the line or Korver’s height over Darren Collison to respond to everything.
For the only time all night, the Pacers couldn’t get a stop, but fought to get the game tied at 84. Indiana would miss their next three attempts, but when they needed a stop to get the ball back with no shot clock, it would be the task of making that against Rose. The defense was solid and did not foul as Rose drove the lane, but Granger was late to rotate back to Rose for fear of another Korver dagger, and it was another acrobatic shot from Rose that would finish the job.
As was the case all series, the Pacers had to pick their poison, and couldn’t catch a break on any of them. The postseason is all the plays you make, and Chicago has made plays when the Pacers did not. It’s a frustrating loss as any in this series in front of an excited Conseco Fieldhouse crowd, but a Granger game winner sailing just left meant that while this series isn’t over, it’s kind of over.
After the jump, more on another great effort from a team that desperately deserves some positives:
Paul George was as great as he was a hindrance. George has really found himself out of the offensive flow for not only this series, but since moving up to the starting lineup. Tonight, he looked for his shot, and looked a little too hard. He finished 1-9 for 6 points, frustrating because his shot selection was a big problem. He knew the plays he wanted to make, but had trouble making them thanks to the Bulls defense.
It’s important to remember he’s a rookie, and another stellar job on Rose helps soften the offensive game. He helped in holding Rose to a dismal 4-18 shooting, had two more blocks and steals. His two blocks put him second in the playoffs in blocked shots with 8, second only to Joakim Noah’s 9. But what really defined his solid night were his game high 12 boards. George has shown a lot this season, and it’ll be exciting to watch him piece everything together.
- Danny Granger’s play in the fourth quarter will be understated because he didn’t hit the game winner and because it coincided with the same stretch of the game the Pacers couldn’t get a stop, but for all the grief Granger undeservedly gets for who he isn’t, he was the one who stepped up when the team needed someone to step up. He finished with a team high 21, a mere cap on a solid postseason he’s put together.
- Darren Collison didn’t seem to have any lingering effects from his ankle injury as he became more and more active as the game progressed. His late game decisions may have been a little questionable as he pulled up for a shot while Granger was scorching, but he found success with his midrange overall. A.J. Price was a little more lackluster at 2-9 shooting, having trouble getting his shots to fall, including two at the end of quarters that could’ve proved to be tremendous bursts as the game progressed.
- Dahntay Jones has been a boom or bust player for Indiana offensively this year and got himself in a groove tonight, scoring 11 points in his first postseason game of the year. Jones, like George, worked well to frustrate Rose, also key in Rose’s dismal shooting night. Mike Dunleavy had a solid first half as well, coming off screens for a pair of field goals and 6 points.
- Josh McRoberts stepped up big in the second quarter, scoring 9 points, including 5-5 from the line as he made hustle plays to keep Indiana in great position. Jeff Foster, as well, played his role as the enforcer down low with great success, installing Davis Justice in the paint when the opportunity arose. While some people confuse Foster’s play for dirty, it’s the kind of play that teams need to find themselves in winning position. No one ever complains about having a player like Jeff Foster on their team; they only complain if they don’t.
- The starting frontline wasn’t as effective, combining for 6-24 shooting for 16 points and 12 rebounds. Roy Hibbert continued to have trouble settling into any kind of rhythm, and Tyler Hansbrough once again had trouble getting his midrange jumper to start falling again. Hansbrough did make some solid plays down the stretch, grabbing 4 of his 5 rebounds on the offensive glass.
- As for the glass, free throws, and various series shortcomings, Indiana did a tremendous job erasing those issues. Indiana as a team went 17-18 from the line, grabbed an equal number of rebounds and had more offensive boards. Unfortunately, the difference tonight was Chicago once again winning the free throw disparity and also shooting 9-20 from three point range, as the Pacers were only 1-10.
In the end, Indiana couldn’t scrape together enough plays to make it a series. It’s insanely frustrating watching the Pacers play their absolute best ball of the entire year and come up short time and time again. While there’s still another chance to grab a victory, there’s little to suggest it will mean anything in the end. All the Pacers can do is continue to play and hope enough can fall their way to result in a victory. Game 4 will take place at Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on TNT. Perhaps it will be the start of something truly amazing.