After four games in which the Indiana Pacers outplayed the Chicago Bulls, it was somewhat inevitable the two teams should at some point lean towards their regular season records. It simply became disappointing that Indiana didn’t make it so the matchup’s only aberration be a throwaway in Indiana’s favor. But the Pacers’ overall inexperience and inability to close out games helped aid Chicago in their first real statement of the 2011 Playoffs.
Heading into the game, Chicago hadn’t led by more than 7 points at any point in the series, so it should’ve been an ominous sign when the Bulls blasted out to a 12-2 lead that it might set the tone for the rest of the game. Chicago kept up their blistering pace and managed to drop 36 on the Pacers on 70% shooting. And while a lot of shots for Chicago fell, they were also slicing and dicing the Indiana defense at will.
The Pacers, who had been stout and consistent the entire series were at the mercy of the Bulls and Derrick Rose, who showed, to what should be no one’s surprise, no ill effects from his ankle injury in Game 4. The Pacers converted on all 12 of their first quarter free throw attempts to keep the game a respectable 11-point deficit in hopes of weathering the storm for the Chicago offense to come back to earth.
Unfortunately, Indiana struggled to capitalize on their opportunities thanks to poor turnovers that the Bulls capitalized at every opportunity. The Pacers caught breaks on fouls to Rose, Joakim Noah, and Carlos Boozer all night, but even as Chicago struggled their way to just 18 second quarter points, Indiana themselves couldn’t build on it.
While Tyler Hansbrough had 9 points, no player on the Pacers stepped up in the first half except for Danny Granger, who scored 14 of his 20 in the first half. But despite every shortcoming, the game was shaping up to be another grind it out game that Indiana would have their chance to win.
As Derrick Rose picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, forcing him out, rode a game shifting 11-2 run that saw the team feed Roy Hibbert in the post and continue to convert at the line to cut the lead to 4. It felt like despite all of the bad stuff, notably turnovers and Chicago shooting well from three point land, Indiana would be just one big explosion from creating another tremendous fourth quarter.
But Tom Thibodeau, an NBA Coach of the Year nominee who may have been outcoached in this series by Pacers coach Frank Vogel, made the biggest move in the series by opting to forego Rose’s foul troubles and reinsert him in the game. The result? The presumptive MVP, who had been struggling shooting all series hit a trio of threes, blocked Hibbert, and led the charge as the Bulls went on a 14-2 run to balloon the lead to 15.
The game got chippy, seeing a fair ejection of Josh McRoberts, even though no punishment to Noah for his role as an instigator. This could’ve had to do with the fact Noah had picked up a technical foul earlier in the game for a push on Jeff Foster. But the Pacers found themselves reeling and couldn’t get back on track falling as the Bulls closed the third quarter on a strong note.
They had one final chance with Rose picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth and Danny Granger popped a couple of threes that gave Indiana some brief life, but Chicago got hot and stayed hot from range, essentially closing the game out.
The Pacers played tough, but a series of shortcomings led to the 27-point final. The Bulls forced 21 turnovers on the Pacers, scoring 34 points on top of winning the 50/50 battle all night long. The Pacers, who only got six points from Granger in the second half, struggled to find consistent scoring all night. Where the team has gotten great hero work throughout the series, no one, absolutely no one could get a rhythm offensively. Add in an unusually hot 14-31 shooting from three point range for Chicago, and the points unfortunately add up.
Indiana played far more in line with their 37-45 record than the world beaters they had shown themselves as throughout the series. While it doesn’t take away from Indiana’s play in the series, they had successfully avoided their usual inconsistencies by masking poor offensive play with great defensive efforts. When Chicago managed to beat their defense early, it was short and simple work when the Pacers shot below 40% and couldn’t break out of their shooting slump.
After the jump, don’t let the one bad game outshine four incredibly promising showings from the Pacers:As mentioned, Danny Granger led the way with 20 points, his 14 first half points keeping the game within reach, but it became unfortunate that no one was able to make plays for Indiana in the second half. Outside of some individual plays on both sides, such as a few salvage shots from Darren Collison, more savvy vet play from Dahntay Jones, and yet another Paul George monster block on Derrick Rose, the overall play left a lot to be desired.
Hidden in Granger's positive first half were a few poor turnovers, which was one of the few constants for Indiana all night. Roy Hibbert found himself in foul trouble and despite shooting 4-7, did have trouble converting around the rim. Josh McRoberts played his worst game of the series, and while his ejection was poorly handled on his part, he didn't offer enough positives to the team to make it too forgivable.
Elsewhere, Tyler Hansbrough's jumper never did show back up after the monster Game 1 even though he led the way with 11 rebounds, Mike Dunleavy struggled to get on track, Paul George and Dahntay Jones's defense on Derrick Rose won't get enough credit as Rose found a rhythm with his missing jumper, and Jeff Foster couldn't break down the Bulls on both sides as he has all series. The biggest positive for the Pacers was their free throw shooting, where they converted on 24 of 26 attempts and of course the undying hatred Bulls fans lavished on the Pacers all series as Indiana gave them far more than they wanted any part of.
While losing always hurts, this Pacers team made significant strides in their first postseason series since 2006. Even the most optimistic (of the level-headed variety) Pacers fans could only predict a five game series as the regular season ended, but that likely included four Game 5s and maybe one miracle showing. That is, absolutely no one saw the Pacers doing what they did in falling a few closing plays from completely owning this series. This made the loss hurt just a little more, always knowing in the back of our mind there could've and should've been a return trip to Conseco Fieldhouse, where it'd be the Pacers turn to rebound after a tough loss.
As the 2010-11 NBA season comes to a close, the discussion will now shift to the offseason, where labor uncertainties cloud what should be a positive offseason for the blue and gold, but there will still be plenty of talking points as the Pacers move forward with coaching concerns, bountiful cap space, and player analysis. While the Pacers' 37-45 record is a long way from respectable in NBA circles, for the first time in nearly a decade, it feels like they're going to make significant progress, being led by a great and energetic group of young players who are only going to get better.
They may have been the second team eliminated from the 2011 NBA Playoffs, but that doesn't matter for all the fight they gave the best team in the NBA. Be proud; passion and pride are returning to the Indiana Pacers. On behalf of Tom, Ian, and Rick, I want to thank everyone who made Indy Cornrows a great place for all of the exciting ups and numerous downs of the 2010-11 season. While the basketball playing portion is over, Indiana's return to relevancy is just starting. We'll still be here as I hope will all of you, helping us looking forward to the Pacers' growth in whatever lies ahead in the summer.