A sense of rage ran through my body at one point in the first half last night.
Tyler Hansbrough had just forced a jump ball on a flying Derrick Rose. Hansbrough tapped the tip to Danny Granger who turned and hit a streaking Paul George in stride for a slam dunk. The play completed an 8-0 run, put the Pacers up 38-33 and generated more noise than the Fieldhouse has heard in several years.
After weathering a slow start the Pacers were now bringing the fight to the Bulls. Aggressive on defense, assertive on offense (did you see the scoop layup by Josh McRoberts?) for the third game in a row the Pacers were playing their guts out in a high-level playoff game. I mean, executing plays off a jump ball tap? The Pacers were on fire.
So why the rage?
For some reason at that point, it hit me that this Pacers' team is not the same team we saw in the regular season and suddenly I was pissed that I had to sit through some many horrific outings from this crew all season. Seriously, all of that wasted time and problems that led to Jim O'Brien's firing was not only painful to watch but I wonder how much of an impact it is having on this series.
If the current playing rotation had played together more this season and played at this level of intensity, they would've been in many more tight games like this and felt more comfortable late in games. They would have far more failures and successes under their belt, key experience that would now benefit the Pacers at crunch time. Instead, they look like they're going through it for the first time and that inexperience is showing up as they try to figure it out.
The Bulls know what works when they need a bucket with the game on the line. The Pacers are still learning what works unfortunately by figuring what doesn't.
So now what?
Frank Vogel was as down after this game as I've seen him since he took over as coach. An 0-3 deficit will do that to a guy, no matter how positive an outlook he brings to the gym. Tomorrow will be the time to pump things up. At this point, the Pacers have to look at it as one more game to give it everything they have.
If they survive, then they can worry about game 5, but they have come too far in this short playoff series and have worked too hard to go in the tank in the final 48 minutes of the season. There is no basketball tomorrow if they lose, so continue showing the guts and fearless attitude for one more game.
Derrick Rose had a great comment when asked about the double-teams and different defensive looks the Pacers threw at him. He had a tough night and had to deal with Paul George and Dahntay Jones pressuring him all game. He simply said, "They're making me better."
Well, Rose and the Bulls are making the Pacers better, as well. If the worst-case scenario plays out, and the Pacers drop Game 4, it is still an opportunity for everyone in blue and gold to get better. Learn, develop, grow under the glaring lights of the NBA playoffs stage. None of those players should fail to recognize the situation or take the opportunity for granted. If you want to get back next year, the process starts now. A home win, pushing the series back to Chicago would relieve a bit of the frustration and add another 48 minutes of work to the season.
And yet another chance to get better.