It was close. Score enough points and the Bulls can’t match. Unfortunately, 99 points weren’t enough yesterday, especially not when Indiana left six points at the free throw line in a five-point game. What were three turning points that allowed Chicago to be the stalker ex-girlfriend that eventually slashed Indiana’s tires? A.J. Price’s failure to hit the free throw on his four point play, Danny Granger’s missed three with Chicago reeling, and Darren Collison’s missed technical late in the fourth. The whole game swings on any of those falling, but all the blue and gold got was Tyler Hansbrough’s strip and dunk on Carlos Boozer. One of four isn’t good enough in the postseason.
Now that the Pacers know that, how do they adjust? It’s Indiana’s move. But despite being down 0-1, you’d almost have to feel they’re still one move ahead. Unfortunately, the dangerous thing for Indiana isn’t what Chicago will respond with, but what will the Pacers themselves respond with?
Indiana shot well in this loss. Every time Chicago made a push, the Pacers were there to respond. Every single time. Those of us who had taken in all 82 games (or at least most of them) had no words for what the Pacers were doing. Was there any point we’d seen that from them?
That actually might be the problem. Is that why I’m more afraid of the Pacers coming out Monday shooting poorly and missing everything than the Bulls playing better?
Perhaps it’s a bit condescending, but I’m not afraid of the Bulls nearly as much as I’m afraid of the Pacers. These last three games (yes, including Obie’s last game) have taught me that the Pacers match up better to the Bulls than I had thought coming into the year, and Indiana playing their game is going to grant them opportunities to win; whether they do or not will be up to them.
In the January loss, the Pacers played poorly and still had a third quarter lead thanks to Josh McRoberts in takeover mode before inexplicably spending the entire fourth quarter on the bench as the Pacers wilted without their nightly leader. Then came the last two games, where Indiana sliced and diced the vaunted Chicago defense to go 1-1 against a team that looked more like Derrick Rose and a bunch of onlookers than a potential NBA Championship team.
To be sure, the Pacers shouldn’t expect it to come as easily as it has against the Bulls in the last two games, but is that because the Bulls defense can contain the Pacers offense, or because the Pacers will actively look to sabotage themselves? If there’s one reason the Pacers can’t win this series, it’s not because Chicago has the better record or because Indiana can’t beat Chicago four times in seven tries; it’s because Indiana’s offense doesn’t have enough consistency as proved over an 82-game season that saw big wins, horrible losses, 54 points in a quarter, and 25% shooting to grant any kind of extended positivity.
Yesterday also proved that even a good showing won’t automatically result in a W, which can't be overlooked.
But Indiana can only control what they have on their team, so the biggest adjustment Indiana will need to make will be to not leave themselves in a poor position offensively. When jumpers aren’t falling, don’t settle. Drive. Indiana got away from interior play in Game 1, partially because the calls weren’t coming, but mostly because Tyler Hansbrough was throwing a tennis ball into the ocean the entire second half. The Pacers got away from Roy Hibbert, who came out big in the first quarter.
The physicality of Indiana’s front line needs to win the battle in the paint, both offensively and defensively, because Indiana has shown that they’re nothing if not streaky, and 2-14 from three point range in Monday night’s game shouldn’t be a surprise, no matter what the Bulls bring defensively. The Pacers have proven stubborn when their jumpers aren’t falling, but having the ability to adjust on the fly is the only way to overcome their own eventual inconsistencies.
In the end, there should be less concern about the Pacers putting forth an effort. The concern should be whether the effort they put forth can win a basketball game. Whatever the Bulls do defensively, Indiana can counter; they’ve got the weapons. They just need to be ready to adjust should their own weapons backfire.