Wow. Conseco Fieldhouse was electrifying. The Indiana Pacers had not seen their fans this pumped up since the last time they were in the playoffs five years ago.
Unfortunately, a third valiant effort fell short again in the dying seconds, and the Bulls escaped with an 88-84 victory. Once again, the difference was Derrick Rose, who broke the deadlock with a twisting, acrobatic layup over four Pacers defenders. Can’t do much about that. The guy is about to be the youngest MVP in history for a reason. The fans must be a little disappointed, having come so close three times, only to come away empty on each occasion — but this game was a cause for celebration.
First and foremost, Danny Granger finally played like the player the Pacers needed him to be. I have been a vocal critic of Granger’s abilities as a leader and a big time player, but tonight he showed a side of him I have seldom seen. Granger actually missed a game winning three pointer with the clock winding down and the Pacers trailing 86-84, but I was ecstatic to see how badly he wanted the ball. He finished with 21 points and was huge for the Pacers down the stretch, hitting four big shots down the stretch to keep the Pacers within striking distance. He may have missed that last shot, but I loved what I saw from him tonight. He was aggressive at both ends of the floor and demanded the ball when the game was on the line. This series might just be what he needs to become a player he ought to be.
Paul George (6 points, 1-9 shooting, 12 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals) again did a stellar defensive job on Rose, who finished with 23 points but on 4-18 shooting. It was his 13-15 from the line that the Pacers couldn’t help. Deng (21 points) and Noah (11 and 10) were solid, but it was Ashton Kutcher that caused the Pacers the most grief in the fourth quarter when they put Collison on him and he made them pay with an array of killer jumpers.
Dahntay Jones was awesome tonight, showing versatility at both ends and finishing with 11 points in 16 minutes. When the Pacers needed a basket, he delivered on more than one occasion.
Importantly, the Pacers finally got square on the boards tonight, tying the Bulls with 42 rebounds and actually outperformed them on offensive boards (15-10). They also made it a little more competitive from the free throw line (17-18 compared to 23-27) and had just 11 turnovers to the Bulls’ 15. And yet they still lost. Again.
Will game four be a win for the Pacers or a sweep for the Bulls? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter all that much, as long as the Pacers play like they have the last three games and push the number one seed to the limit. They’ve been playing so hard, so together, and Pacers fans can’t ask for much more than that. If they can get one, it will do miracles for their confidence — but either way, I’m already excited for next season.