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Chicago Bulls 96, Indiana Pacers 90: Pacers Lose Collison in First Half, Give Away Another Victory in Final Minutes

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This may end in four games yet. After all, Indiana still hasn’t won a game. So why does it feel like the Pacers, who are now 0-2 in their first playoff series in five years against the best team in basketball, have every reason to believe they’ll win Games 3 and 4 at home?

The Indiana Pacers are having themselves quite an interesting coming out party, where in losses, they’re slowly gaining the respect of the NBA. They’ve done so by doing everything to win against the mighty Chicago Bulls except win.

And right now, that’s okay, because they’ve already gone so much further in two losses to Chicago than most people thought they’d go in an entire series. It’s not even a discussion on moral victories. This series sits at 2-0, but the Pacers haven’t given up any ground. The series now shifts to Indianapolis, where the Pacers will play host to what is sure to be a far more lively and excited crowd than sat in shock at the United Center.

The Pacers have only once climbed out of a 2-0 deficit to win a series, way back in 1972, when they came back in the Western Division Finals to defeat the Utah Stars in 7 games. While that doesn’t bode well for a series victory, Pacers fans do have several 7 game series to look back on that began with 2-0 deficits. What that means is that 2-0 will be completely meaningless when Indiana takes the court on Thursday against a severely bullied Chicago team that needed another 36 points from Derrick Rose to seal the deal.

But after losing Game 1, the talk was more on whether or not the Chicago Bulls would awaken and absolutely crush the Pacers. Nervous tension rose as fans watched the Miami Heat obliterate the Philadelphia 76ers. But Indiana showed up ready to shock the world (for real this time). It didn’t quite start off with the pace of the opening game; Indiana couldn’t hit shots and couldn’t grab rebounds, but instead of being down fifteen, Indiana finished the quarter up thanks in large part to the outstanding and active defense of Paul George and grabbing a pair of quick fouls on Derrick Rose.

The Pacers went into this one with intents to keep Rose under control, and they did for as long as they could. Indiana took advantage of every second Rose was off the floor to open up a multiple possession lead thanks to Mike Dunleavy. Indiana pushed the lead to 9 after Darren Collison converted on a layup past Rose. But the game suddenly changed. Instead of pushing the tempo and push the lead, Collison remained on the floor, holding his ankle.

Collison landed on a cameraman’s foot after the layup, forcing him to leave the game with a sprained ankle. He wouldn’t return to the game, and the shock sent Chicago into an 8-2 run to close the half. The Bulls continued out of the half, regained the lead, and pushed it all the way to 7 points. But it was redemption time for one of the Pacers’ most maligned players: T.J. Ford.

Ford entered the game in Collison’s stead and led a furious comeback that erased the entire deficit, ending on a 65-foot three pointer at the buzzer to tie the game and renew hope heading into the final quarter. Even if they lost this game, it wouldn’t be easy on Chicago. Ford would help lead the Pacers to a two point lead with under six minutes to go.

An awfully familiar position, wouldn’t you say?

That’s when the replay of Game 1 happened. Derrick Rose took over, willed his team to a five-point lead cut to 2 when A.J. Price hit a buzzer beating three. But it wasn’t a minute later that it happened again: Kyle Korver drilled the dagger. Thanks in addition to a pair of questionable calls against Indiana, Chicago once again escaped with a hard-earned victory.

The curious switch in the game came in the fourth quarter when Rose took over. To that point, the Pacers had been quick to switch and trap Rose at the half court, a move that worked and forced Rose into six turnovers, but once Indiana quit doing that, the circus shots started falling just as they did in the first match.

After the jump, Indiana will work to get this back to Chicago knotted at 2-2:

  • Paul George came up huge tonight. The rookie was only 2-7 from the field, but was an absolute force on the defensive end. For the first time in quite a while, Pacers fans were reminded exactly what they had in him all season. George played outstanding defense on Rose. It took 11-25 shooting and an additional 13 free throws for Rose to reach 36, but George had 3 steals, 4 blocks, and 18 deflections, doing absolutely everything in his power to keep Rose’s heroics to a minimum. While they didn’t, Paul George arrived in a big way.
  • T.J. Ford gets the Redemption Player of the Year Award. Following Collison’s unfortunate injury, Ford followed a spirited, but overwhelmed A.J. Price and turned the game from a potential double-digit deficit to a Pacers lead. His three-quarter buzzer beater capped a well crafted and calm 5 points and assist.
  • As for Darren Collison, he left the game with an ankle sprain and will be listed day-to-day. The three day break is well timed in this case, as it could prove just long enough for Collison to make a triumphant return in Game 3. To that point, Collison was doing another solid job running the offense, really opening the Pacers up late in the half after a slow first quarter. The game was never quite the same after he left, as Indiana was just beginning to kick it into high gear and pull away when he went down.
  • In Game 1, the wing help was what held Indiana back offensively, tonight it was the interior guys, who were saddled with foul trouble early and often. Jeff Foster came up biggest in his 18 minutes with 9 points and Josh McRoberts made some solid plays, but really failed to get an encore performance from Tyler Hansbrough. His opportunities were there, but they weren’t falling, as he finished 2-12 with a team high 6 rebounds.
  • As for the rebounds, Indiana allowed another 20 on the offensive glass en route to being outrebounded 57-33. It was perhaps Indiana’s single biggest vice tonight, but credit goes to the team for holding Chicago on put backs off of those offensive boards. But what Indiana really made up for was in forcing Chicago’s offense into 22 turnovers that turned into 26 points for the Pacers, even though Indiana themselves had 12 in the second half alone, the sloppy play helping to cancel out Indiana’s advantage late.
As a whole, it was another heartbreaking loss for the Indiana Pacers, but even still, they have to feel positive moving this series back to Indianapolis. While they’ve not won, it has to be firmly within the minds of the players that they can win and beat this team. The Bulls have shown absolutely nothing the Pacers should be afraid of. In fact, the blue and gold could make the case it was their own shortcomings that lent Chicago a pair of victories.

Game 3 will take place at the friendly confines of Conseco Fieldhouse this Thursday. Television coverage will be on NBA TV and Fox Sports Indiana at a far more manageable 7 p.m. Chicago held serve at home, now it’s Indiana’s turn. Chicago fans spent two games restless and nervous in the United Center, eventually garnering jeers of "Pacers suck!" that did nothing but bring a wide eyed grin to every Pacers fan. And now that not a single Pacers fan is afraid of the Chicago Bulls, it's time for the blue and gold to give Chicago and their fans something to really fear.