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Indiana Pacers 89, Chicago Bulls 84: Despite Best Efforts to Choke Away Game, Indiana Extends Series on First Playoff Win in 2011

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It hasn’t been easy all season. Why it would change now should be well past the realm of thought. It should come as no surprise the Indiana Pacers needed every bit of their 18-point second half lead on the Chicago Bulls to close out their first win of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. But that’s the story as Indiana, taking a "one game at a time" mentality, stayed alive to move the series back to Chicago at 3-1.

If anyone was expecting a Bulls blowout, they clearly haven’t watched any of this series, a series in which Indiana has outplayed Chicago for 45 of the 48 minutes in all three games. The same held true yet again, but the difference was that Indiana was able to build an 18-point lead that Chicago cut to 1 with 15 seconds in the game.

Indiana played great defense throughout the game, in addition to limiting the Bulls to 33 first half points, held them under 40% shooting for the night. Even still, Indiana’s offense really tripped over itself plenty early, but still held a seven point first quarter lead thanks to 7 from Paul George, who not only continued his stellar defensive play, but found some positives on the offensive side.

At the end of the first quarter, Derrick Rose came down on his ankle that caused him to come up limping. He would return to the game, but it was clear the ankle was bothering him. Rose wasn’t confident enough in his ankle to make drives to the basket, and as such, had just four free throw attempts, and finished with 15 points on a dreadful 6-22 shooting.

The defense on Rose helped limit Chicago’s effectiveness as the Bulls couldn’t shake the Pacers defense or hit shots at a good enough pace. The Pacers, on the other hand, continued to flounder offensively, until the switch was flipped, leading Indiana to finish on a furious 17-3 run to end the half, putting them up 49-33. Chicago began to slowly cut into the lead in the second half, but as they struggled to cut it to 9, Indiana pushed it back out to 17 early in the fourth quarter.

Chicago had trouble keeping pace with Indiana’s offense all game, and in addition to the lack of explosiveness from Rose, limited help from Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, Indiana held a sizeable 16-point lead with five to go.

That’s when Indiana flipped the switch.

Err…the wrong switch.

Leading 82-66, the Pacers committed two straight shot clock violations that could only be laughed off as clock eating measures. The next thing you know, the Bulls are forcing Indiana into turnovers that helped give Chicago a 15-2 run that cut the lead to three. Mike Dunleavy split his free throws on the following trip as a Joakim Noah completed a three point play to cut it to 1 with 15 seconds remaining.

Credit has to go to Danny Granger for salvaging this game at the free throw line and closing it out. Prior to his four free throws that finally clinched the victory for Indiana, the Pacers were an abysmal 18-30 from the free throw line, a far cry from their Game 3 performance.

In the end, Granger’s free throws allowed Indiana to hold on for victory. On a night the Bulls didn’t get everything from Rose and the supporting cast continued to trip up, Chicago not only looked their most beatable, but they finally were. Indiana has struggled closing out games all series; this is certainly no exception, but at least they finally walked away with a much deserved W.

After the jump, the shift back to Chicago couldn’t be sweeter even if it wasn’t pretty:

  • The Pacers forced Chicago into 13 more turnovers (3 from Rose). That number feels awfully low, but Indiana once again frustrated the Bulls defensively, limiting them to 38% shooting, and just 3-20 from beyond the arc, a far cry from Game 3’s 9-20 shooting.
  • Indiana did struggle to close out the game yet again. This has been the difference between win and loss in every single game this series, and it almost became yet another because something clicked in every Pacers player’s head as soon as the clock switched to under four minutes. Suddenly, they were tense. Josh McRoberts was stuck bringing the ball up. Timeouts were wasted on inbounds passes. Darren Collison couldn’t dribble. No one could hit a shot; nay…no one could get a shot up in 24 seconds. It’s beyond explanation how this team has continued to falter down the stretch of games, but it’s the single difference between heading back to Chicago 2-2 and having to claw for three more victories.
  • Fortunately, while the offense fell apart, the defense remained consistent. Following a Collison turnover with about a minute to go, Collison ran down Rose and blocked his layup, saving two crucial points. The biggest stand of the game was when Indiana needed a stop on the game’s final possession by Chicago. They trapped Joakim Noah, prevented the pass to Rose, Deng, or Kyle Korver, and forced Chicago to shoot a wide open three pointer…from Carlos Boozer, not a bad shot from a player who was lining up his first three point attempt since 2007.
  • Danny Granger continued his solid postseason play finding certainty on his midrange game, including some timely movement away from the ball to capitalize a postseason double double of 24 points and 10 rebounds. Granger’s final four points at the line were a big deal because not only were the free throws not a given from the team standpoint, but a 50-50 Conseco Fieldhouse crowd was vehemently booing against him to ice the victory for Indiana. Alas, he did, and for a team that doesn’t have a true franchise player, he did quite nicely against the league’s presumptive MVP.
  • As for Derrick Rose, he didn’t look right following his ankle injury. He wasn’t driving in the fourth quarter as the Bulls needed to make a comeback. Paul George and Dahntay Jones did their part in a big way defensively to not give him many easy looks at the basket. Their length frustrated Rose’s shot all night. His 6-22 drops his shooting average in the series to 35.2%. Furthermore, he’s shooting just 17.2% from three point range in the series. These are very positive numbers should Indiana look to have a shot in Game 5. The severity of Rose’s injury won’t truly be known until the tip in Game 5, but he was clearly bothered tonight. However, much as was the case with Darren Collison, the extra day off will help tremendously for Chicago’s sake.
  • Paul George struggled offensively in Game 3 as he actively looked for his shot, but returned to his automatic mid range roots, shooting 4-5 in the first half finishing with 9 points. His defense on Rose was particularly stellar, grabbing another pair of steals, but sat most of the second half. The idea of Frank Vogel leaving George on the bench for the entire fourth quarter with the Pacers struggling to close the game may seem a bit odd, but the rook lacks the overall experience of Dahntay Jones, and while Jones can be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, the Pacers still need as much big game experience as they can get. Rose couldn’t get anything going against Jones in the fourth quarter; it’s understandable not to shake up that formula, even as the offense crumbled. Defense won for the Pacers in the end, and Jones’s continued play on Rose was a key part of that.
  • Roy Hibbert had a surprisingly solid 16 and 10 double double with 3 blocks, but you wouldn’t know he was going to have that kind of game watching him in the first quarter. As the Pacers made a conscious effort to feed Roy early to get him going, the result was always the same; a roll off the rim as he started 1-6 in a particularly ugly fashion. But as the Pacers offense began to wake up, so to did Hibbert’s effectiveness, as he put together his best playoff game yet. The biggest play for Roy was getting an easy layup to drop late in the fourth quarter. As Chicago began their 15-2 run, Hibbert’s two points remained the sole barrier to the incoming onslaught.
  • A.J. Price played his microwave game, hitting 2 of Indiana’s 5 three point baskets helping the Pacers push the lead on Chicago. Darren Collison had trouble finding his shot throughout the entire game, but after hitting a three late in the first half, saddled himself with foul #3, killing any potential run he may have gotten. His block on Rose late in the game was the single play that saved Indiana’s chances at grabbing this win, even if he set himself up poorly before hustling back.
  • Mike Dunleavy was the most tangible example for Indiana’s free throw troubles. Despite a solid night at the line in Game 3, the Pacers struggled early and often, leaving far too many points on the board. But it was Dunleavy, drawing two three shot fouls and then shooting 3-6 in them, and bricking the first free throw late with Indiana leading by just 3 that most hurt. Dunleavy wasn’t the only player who couldn’t convert on the free points, as Price was the only player of 8 different Pacers at the line who converted all of his attempts.
  • Jeff Foster missed both of his free throw attempts in the game, but enough can’t be said about how well he played in this game. Foster is one of the sport’s greatest players in offensive rebounds, and he played up to that standing today. It was impossible to measure his value in saving possession after possession for Indiana. He just wouldn’t quit on every Pacers miss, grabbing seven offensive boards that led to key Indiana conversions. Foster, who had two of his fouls in Game 3 upgraded to technical status, wasn’t fazed, only going out and playing his game, beating the Bulls time and time again on the offensive glass as boos rained down from the Bulls fans in attendance.

The Pacers won a game! It wasn’t pretty, but finding the pretty wins this season are few and far between as Indiana once again played well above what they have at any point in the season. Heading into the series, it seemed Indiana’s chances at making it close through five games were slim because of their inconsistencies, but the Pacers may actually be the most consistent team in the postseason so far: they beat the Bulls down for 45 minutes, and choke on their own tongues in the final three. The same script held up today, but at least now it’s known just how many points Indiana has to be up to avoid coming out with their final L of the season.

The severity of Derrick Rose’s ankle injury will be a major talking point for the next few days, but Indiana shouldn’t expect it to slow Rose down by the time Tuesday rolls around. The series will shift back to Chicago and an angry United Center crowd on Tuesday night.Where will the game air? It could be dependent on the outcome of Boston/New York Game 4 as to whether it will air on TNT or NBA TV/Fox Sports Indiana. But it’s a great problem to have as Indiana has extended their NBA postseason action to a fifth (and hopefully not final) game.