So close, and yet so far.
Minutes ago, the Indiana Pacers went down swinging in game 2 of their first round matchup against the top seeded Chicago Bulls, 96-90. But you know what? I’m not all that disappointed. The Pacers lost Darren Collison in the second quarter with the Pacers up by 9 after he sprained his ankle on a cameraman’s foot (how freaking ridiculous is that?!) and struggled to find the right rhythm after that.
However, through sheer hustle and determination against a significantly more talented team, the Pacers managed to stay close and got close to pulling out the victory until a few bad calls went against them and took the wind out of their sails. Unfortunate, but the Pacers can’t feel that bad going back to Indiana down 0-2 in a series few gave them a chance of winning even one game.
Both teams started out slow, but it was because of the intense defense at both ends of the floor. Paul George was a revelation tonight and my Player of the Game for the Pacers, simply because of the amazing defense he played on Derrick Rose, especially during the first half, getting countless deflections and 3 steals and 4 blocks. The Pacers led 18-17 at the end of the first quarter and extended the lead to 9 midway through the second quarter, but in part due to Darren Collison’s injury, the Bulls came storming back to only trail 47-44 at the half.
The Pacers struggled at the beginning of the second half without their starting point guard, as the Bulls began to assert their superiority and grabbed a 7 point lead on a couple of occasions. But the Pacers scratched and clawed and tied the game on the half-court buzzer beater by TJ Ford to end the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was tight all the way, even though it was becoming more and more apparent each possession that Derrick Rose was starting to take over. In the place of Collison, AJ Price really stepped up, hitting a massive 3-pointer to keep the Pacers in the game and hustled out of his mind to save a few Indiana possessions. Then, with the Pacers down by 2, Kyle Korver hits another big 3-pointer to put the Bulls up by 5. On the ensuring play, Roy Hibbert was called on a really lame offensive foul (which should have ended up being a Paul George and-1 rebound slam). On the next possession, Rose airballs a jumper but the ball comes off Foster’s head as he is being shoved out of bounds by Carlos Boozer (with both hands). Someone the refs miss that call as well.
The Pacers had another chance after that when Rose fouled Price on a 3-pointer and Price made all 3 free throws to keep the Pacers within 2, but Deng hit both his free throws and Dunleavy missed a long bomb to effectively signal the end for the Pacers. Final score, 96-90.
The Pacers did an even better job on Derrick Rose this game, even though the MVP-to-be still had 36 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. I say so because he shot 11-25 from the field and only got to the line 13 times (for 12 makes). Most importantly, the excellent defense from Paul George and the rest of the team forced Rose into 6 turnovers.
For the Pacers, only Granger (19 points) and Price (13 points) scored in double figures, but it really was an all-round team effort tonight. Hansbrough had a shocker with 6 points on 2-12 shooting, but still provided some much needed energy. Foster was solid backing up Hibbert, who was in foul trouble for a large part of the night, and guys like Dunleavy and McRoberts also chipped in with some crucial plays.
The game tonight was lost again on the boards for the Pacers, who gave up an inexcusable 20 offensive boards to the Bulls and were outrebounded 57-33. Considering how lopsided the rebounding total was, it’s a miracle that the Pacers came this close. But it’s something they have to figure out for game 3 — at the moment the Bulls just seem to want the ball more when it comes off the rim or the backboard, and the Pacers are being outmuscled in the paint on just about every possession.
If anything, these two games have shown me two crucial things. First, when the Pacers play with this type of energy, effort and fearlessness, they are one heck of a team, and there’s no reason why they can’t bring just a fraction of this wonderful intensity more often during the regular season. Second, this series is exactly the reason why young teams like the Pacers should try and make the playoffs and be swept rather than tank to get a better draft pick. These Pacers now know the smell of playoff basketball and they are loving it. Even if they lose the next two (which I no longer believe they necessarily will), they will still get so much out of the experience that they will no doubt become a substantially better team next season.
Thankfully, Game 3 is on Thursday, which will give Darren Collison a few days to rest his ankle. Would the Pacers have won today with him pushing the tempo in the second half? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s imperative that he returns in order for the Pacers to have a chance of not being swept.
Pacers fans should pack Conseco Fieldhouse for the next two games. After seeing how hard this team has played, it’ll be a travesty if the fans don’t give them everything they have as well.