Danny Granger got his wish.
Before the series, Granger (rather infamously) said: “Chicago, they go as Derrick Rose goes. If you make a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose, you have a better chance to beat them.”
Over the first three games of this series, it has become very clear that “making a concerted effort to stop Derrick Rose” is indeed Indiana’s game plan. They have doubled Rose. They have trapped him. They’ve thrown entire walls of defenders at him. When he drives, they bump him, hit him, and, if all else fails, commit hard (and borderline flagrant) fouls, such as Jeff Foster’s “Who me?” elbow to the head midway through the third quarter.
Honestly, the tactics the Pacers have been using against Rose feels like a zero-calorie version of the “Jordan Rules” former Pistons coach Chuck Daily devised to stop MJ back in the late 1980s. The strategy (as explained on Wikipedia) was “to play him tough, to physically challenge him and to vary its defenses so as to try to throw him off balance. Sometimes the Pistons would overplay Jordan to keep the ball from him. Sometimes they would play him straight up, more often they would run a double-team at him as soon as he touched the ball to try to force him to give it up. And whenever he went to the basket, they made sure his path was contested”.
Sounds about right, doesn’t it?
Rose beat that strategy in Games 1 and 2. He succumbed to it last night and submitted one of his worst games of the season: 4-for-18 from the field, 2-for-6 from downtown, only 2 assists and a game-high 5 turnovers. Rose still managed to score a game-high 23 points by going 12-for-13 from the foul line. He also snatched a game-best 4 steals and hit the go-ahead layup with 17 seconds left.
That’s the hallmark of truly great players: They can make an impact even when they are playing like absolute garbage.
Last night, for most of the game, Rose got by with a little help from his friends. And no, Carlos Boozer (4 points on 2-for-10 shooting in 32 minutes) was not one of those friends. But everyone outside of Rose and Boozer (who were a combined 6-for-28) went 22-for-44.
Starters Luol Deng (21 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists), Joakim Noah (11 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocked shots) and even Keith Bogans (9 points on 3-for-3 from downtown) came through big time.
The Bench Mob didn’t see a lot of floor time (more on that below), but Kyle Korver was crunch time savior. He scored 10 of his 12 points in a three-minute stretch of the fourth quarter that began with the Pacers up 70-66 and ended with the Bulls ahead 80-76. That hot-shooting burst by Korver really turned the game around because the Bulls were struggling — and struggling mightily — to find some offense at that point.
Said Indiana coach Frank Vogel: “Korver killed us in the fourth. He even killed us on the last play when we couldn’t leave him to help. That allowed Rose to get to the bucket.”
When they review the video of this game, Vogel and the Pacers are going to wonder how Korver kept getting wide open for those shots. They may also wonder: “What more can we do?” Seriously, Indy has done everything in this series but actually win. The Pacers have had fourth quarter leads in all three games and then choked them away. That has to be demoralizing. How much spirit will they have left in Game 4? It’s hard to say…but I’m not going to bet against them. They’ve shown more scrap in this series than I imagined possible.
As for the Bulls, their offensive struggles continue. Offensively, Game 3 was the ugly twin of Game 2, with Chicago shooting 38.9 percent from the field and giving up 18 points off 16 turnovers (12 of those points and 12 of those turnovers came in the first half). However, whereas the Bulls dominated the boards in Game 2, the Pacers evened things up last night (42-42) and won the offensive rebounding battle (15-10).
Unfortunately for Indiana fans, the Pacers shot poorly from the field (37.9 percent) and were absolutely dreadful from beyond the arc (1-for-10). Throw in Chicago’s 27-18 advantage in free throw attempts, Korver’s shot hot streak, Rose’s clutch basket and Granger’s awful final shot…and that’s the ballgame.
I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again: The Bulls have problems but they aren’t on defense. Last night, they once again exceeded their season averages by holding the Pacers to an eFG% of 38.5 percent and an Offensive Rating of 97.8. Take away Danny Granger’s 10-for-21 performance and Indiana was 23-for-66 as a team (and 0-for-9 from downtown). And here’s more data from ESPN Stats and Information:
“While it wasn’t pretty, the Bulls’ win over the Pacers followed the same familiar scripts as in the first two games with Chicago’s defense tightening up in the 4th quarter. Chicago held Indiana to just 17 points in the 4th quarter on 8-23 shooting. For the series, the Bull are holding the Pacers to 35.4 pct from the floor in the final frame.”
Like I said: Defense is not the source of Chicago’s (relative) woes.
The problems are on offense. The Pacers strategy has been: Throw a variety of defenses at Rose, clog the paint and force the Bulls to become a jump shooting team. They have supplemented this strategy with aggressive, physical play and loads of hard fouls (mostly against Rose). These are tactics lesser teams have always employed against better teams. That’s how the Knicks rose up to challenge the Bulls in the 1990s, although these Pacers are not nearly as brutal as those New York teams and this year’s squad isn’t on par with the Jordan teams. With all due respect to Deng, Boozer and Noah, Rose doesn’t have his Scottie Pippen.
That could be Chicago’s undoing in these playoffs.
Outside of that, the Bulls’ spacing was terrible. That’s why many of these turnovers are being committed. It’s also a big reason why Boozer is struggling so much. Because the spacing is so bad, the area around Boozer often looks like a mosh pit. Several turnovers have been committed because post passes to Booz have to travel through a sea of enemy hands. And when the ball does reach Carlos, he’s almost always surrounded.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has to clean up this spacing issue because it is strangling the offense to death. This is made even more apparent by the following factoids from ESPN Stats and Information:
“The Bulls made a season-low seven field goal attempts inside of five feet on Thursday, one fewer than the eight field goals they made inside five feet against the Bucks on December 28th. The Bulls shot 30.4 percent on such attempts in Game 3 (7-23), also a season-low.”
“The Bulls managed just 16 points in the paint, by far their fewest of the season. During the regular season Chicago’s fewest points in the paint were 26 done three different times. It’s also the fewest the Bulls have scored in the paint in any playoff game over the last 15 seasons.”
Thibs also needs to remember that a clear and consistent rotation was one of the primary keys to Chicago’s regular season success. I get that starters tend to log more minutes in the playoffs, but as near as I can tell, Thibodeau has completely scrapped the regular season rotation and hasn’t decided on one for the postseason. When the Bulls were winning 62 games, everybody knew their role, and it was a strength. The bench players don’t know what their role is right now and it shows.
I ask you this: What impact is Omer Asik going to have in three minutes?
But hey, a win’s a win, and we’ll take it. No matter how ugly.
Said Noah: “It shows you that it’s not all about just stats. I know that a lot of people are always looking at the stat sheet. If you look at, to me, what really affects winning, Taj Gibson’s blitz on [Danny] Granger at the end of the game. Nobody’s going to ever talk about that. But those are the things that win the game. A lot of guys stepped up. Booz didn’t score the ball very well tonight, but his rebounding was very big for us. Overall, it’s a team effort we stuck together, played hard as hell.”
Noah’s right. It’s pretty clear the Pacers aren’t going to win this series. But whether they sweep or finish things at home in Game 5 (or, gulp, Games 6 or 7), the Bulls need to use the remaining game (or games) to clean up their mess of an offense and establish some rhythm for the second round. This kind of play isn’t going to cut it against a better team.
Jared Wade of 8 Points, 9 Seconds: “But it wasn’t Derrick Rose that beat Indiana tonight. What beat them was their own inability to create good offense when it matters. What beat them was a superior team that through the gutsy, unwavering will of its superior player — and I don’t just mean on the court in this game, I mean perhaps superior to any other player in the NBA right now — made a play just seconds after the Pacers proved unable to do so.”