Apr 23, 2011, 6:32 PM EDT
It wasn’t easy, but the Indiana Pacers finally managed to beat the Bulls after losing three consecutive heart-breakers. While the Pacers controlled the game most of the way, they did manage to make things interesting by allowing the Bulls to end the game on a 22-11 run, and the Bulls were one Carlos Boozer three-pointer away from tying the game with two seconds to go.
Still, the Pacers were able to hold on, and here’s the bad news for Bulls fans: The Pacers have defended Derrick Rose and the Bulls better in each game of the series than they did in the one before it.
Game 1: Rose 39 points on 10-23 shooting, Bulls score 104 poitnts
Game 2: Rose 36 points on 11-25 shooting, Bulls score 96 points
Game 3: Rose 23 points on 4-18 shooting, Bulls score 88 points
Game 4: Rose 15 points on 6-22 shooting, Bulls score 84 points
While the sprained ankle Rose suffered near the end of the first quarter was likely responsible for much of his ineffectiveness on Saturday, the fact is that the Pacers have defended Rose well ever since game one, and the Bulls’ other options have not stepped up.
Carlos Boozer was more aggressive in Game 3, but he still rushed most of his shots in the paint and failed to work effectively in the post, and ended up shooting 6-15. Luol Deng‘s normally reliable jumper abandoned him, and he only made one of his six shots from outside the paint. Joakim Noah was fantastic on both ends of the floor, but he doesn’t get his points by being a primary offensive option. Chicago’s vaunted bench was outscored 17-30 by the Pacer subs, and C.J. Watson, Omer Asik, and Ronnie Brewer barely saw the court. Even though the Pacers only shot 39% in Game 3, they did enough to overcome the Bulls’ anemic offensive effort.
Assuming the Bulls will win one of the next three games and advance to the second round, the question that will define their playoff success is whether other teams will be able to defend Derrick Rose as well as the Pacers have. The Pacers have done a wonderful job on Rose, but not every team can trap and recover and mix up their coverages as well as the Pacers have; more importantly, not every team has a defensive player with Paul George‘s combination of size, speed, and defensive instincts. And while credit is due to the Pacers for keeping Rose out of the paint for the most part, Rose’s improved jump shot has completely abandoned him in the playoffs — over the course of the series, Rose is only 13-50 on shots outside of the paint.
The Pacers have shown that if Rose is slowed down successfully, the Bulls don’t have the offensive firepower to compensate, and that should be a concern for the Bulls going forward. Barring a miracle, the Bulls won’t lose this series, and every matchup in the playoffs is different. But the Pacers seem to have drawn up a blueprint for how to beat the team that had the NBA’s best record in the regular season.
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