Game 3 Recap: Bulls 88, Pacers 84

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.

Foster has been doing that sort of thing since Game 1.

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.”

And:

“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.

TrueHoop Network:
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.”

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, BBR Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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10 Responses to Game 3 Recap: Bulls 88, Pacers 84

  1. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath April 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    I swear, for the first time ever this season, I was sitting, watching the game thinking…

    “Damnit, put Bogans in the game! We need someone who can hit a shot!”

  2. hellajax@gmail.com'
    BULL4EVER April 22, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Never mind Chicago going as far as D’Rose taking them–true fact, but never mind that fact, especially since Chicago will beat any team on the face of the NBA with or without D’Rose in the mix–not to mention this totally underrated Chicago team has had so many injuries all season to Boozer and Noah–and yet they have tallied off 62 wins, the most ever since totally hated dynasty days of the 90′s.We Bulls fans have always been totally quick to remember all that totally idiotic trash talk regarding he and the Pacers match up totally better with this Bulls team than with Boston–now Chicago is about to sweep yall fools out of the postseason-man how wrong have yall fools just turned out to be because it would have been a full seven-game series if yall fools would have played B

  3. hellajax@gmail.com'
    BULL4EVER April 22, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    Boston in round one.One victim is already down–we still have three victims to go–depending on the postseason outcomes. GO BULLS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. reggiemcglory@yahoo.com'
    chitown4life April 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

    the Bull must knock some body down a lot of times send the msge to the NBa not in our house not against our team we are who we are Da Bulls

  5. hellajax@gmail.com'
    BULL4EVER April 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    That’s what I’m talkin about CHITOWN,you tell em straight up who we are and what we’re made of,especially if it’s Bull-haters who be talkin way too much junk.GO BULLS!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. TBF April 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Thibs has to get his act together. He coached very well the majority of the season and now it’s like he’s taken everything he’d done for 82 games and thrown it right out the window.

    The bench was playing so well late in the season, why has he abandoned it? I mean, Asik was doing good and now, he can’t buy his way onto the floor. As Matt said, this team is best when everyone knows their role and everyone gets involved.

    Also, what happened to posting up Boozer with regularity? There is literally no one on this Pacers team who can guard him. No one. The Bulls want spacing? Then they’re going to have to show some post game besides just having Rose fling himself down the lane. Post Boozer, repost him if necessary. But now, it’s like Thibs wants to turn him into an expensive Deng from 2 years ago; you know, the one where all he wants to do is shoot contested jumpers from 20 feet.

    I realize we’re winning, and really the defense has been great. But it just seems like we’ve abandoned everything that got us this far to begin with.

  7. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath April 22, 2011 at 6:05 pm #

    I agree with wondering where the bench use has gone, especially as we have just squeaked by so far.

    I think it has put a lot of pressure on someone like Brewer, who didn’t come into the game until late (I missed some of the first half, so I might be wrong.)

    I would have loved to see Asik in there against Hibbert.

    And, Boozer got plenty of touches, honestly. He has done a TERRIBLE job with the post position he got. He has put up weak shot after weak shot and has just not looked like a playoff pro. I don’t see the experience coming through with him, right now. I am not trying to castigate him for all time, but he has really been weak. The waiting continues… I am shocked that Taj has not seen more time. Boozy needs to sit and watch the game for a few minutes to get his act together.

  8. Inception April 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    at this point, i’d rather see Taj in there than Booz…there’s no lift in Boozer’s game, and his shots are constantly getting blocked…it’s annoying.

    game 4 could be a potential blowout if CHI comes out early and grabs a double digit lead.

  9. TBF April 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    It’s not that Boozer’s not getting touches, it’s that he’s getting bad touches. I’m sick of seeing him get the ball out by the free throw line or farther out. Then all he can do is do those turn around fade aways. That’s not what I want from him. I want the Bulls, as an offense, to get him the ball down on the block. He’s so effective down there, and they never seem to want to make the effort to post him up.

  10. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath April 22, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    TBF – I actually like him split between deep post and free-throw line touches. He has spent his whole career doing both, and well. He has a beautiful short jumper and it is just not falling. He has a soft-touched post game and it has not been falling. He has been noticeably stripped of the ball more than once.

    His only foundation has been rebounding the ball.

    Honestly, I perfectly expect him to score 18 to 25 points the next game with 12 to 18 rebounds and help the Bulls to a win…

    …because Boozer has done this so much in his career, he can get the benefit of the doubt going forward….

    But, there is not much good to talk about so far in the playoffs and for my eyes, his issues are completely in his own control.

    (Same with Rose and his errant passes…)

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