Derrick Rose was in a walking boot and headed for an MRI exam on his sprained left ankle on Sunday. The rest of the Bulls were hurting, too.
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Their first-round series is shifting back to Chicago after Indiana withstood a late rally to win Game 4 and avoid the sweep.
Game 5 is Tuesday night, and maybe then, the Bulls will start to resemble a No. 1 seed.
They haven’t so far in the playoffs.
They’re letting Indiana dictate the tempo. They’re shooting poorly, getting outhustled and having trouble protecting the ball, too.
Their star point guard’s health only adds to the angst.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said trainer Fred Tedeschi told him Rose is sore, but the swelling is ”not bad.” The walking boot is more precautionary.
Rose sprained his left ankle late in the first quarter Saturday as the Bulls dropped Game 4 to the Pacers 89-84.
He finished with 15 points and 10 assists, but he clearly wasn’t his usual potent self after the injury, scoring just eight points on 3-for-16 shooting the rest of the way.
Rose was not available for comment on Sunday. The top-seeded Bulls lead the series 3-1 and expect to have him available for Game 5 on Tuesday when they try again to finish off the Pacers.
If he is limited or can’t go, C.J. Watson would figure to get more playing time.
”Every time somebody goes down, somebody’s always ready to step up, but knowing Derrick, he’s going to be able to play,” forward Taj Gibson said. ”I know he’s not going to sit out and miss a big-time game like this.”
Either way, Watson is confident the Bulls will end this series on Tuesday.
”We feel great,” Watson said. ”We feel like we’re going to close it out on Tuesday. We’ve got to work on some things defensively. And offensively, work on spacing. Other than that, we feel good.”
They just haven’t looked as good in this series, and if they fall Tuesday, it’ll be just the fifth time this season they’ve dropped back-to-back games. They never lost more than two in a row while storming to a league-best 62-20 record, and although they’re in control, they could just as easily be down 3-1 or out of it altogether the way the series has gone.
The Bulls rallied late to win the first three games by a combined 15 points and nearly pulled it out on Saturday, even though they trailed by 13 with 2:17 remaining.
Still, few expected this.
The Bulls rarely let opponents dictate the tempo during the season, but that’s exactly what’s been happening in the playoff. The traps on Rose are throwing them out of sync, and it’s added up to poor shooting (39.8 percent) and trouble hanging onto the ball. The Pacers have converted 67 turnovers by Chicago into 89 points.
The Bulls had a rare breakdown, too, at the end of Game 4 that resulted in Carlos Boozer launching and missing his first 3-point attempt since the 2007-08 season. Thibodeau again said Sunday they should have called a timeout once it became clear the play wasn’t working.
He was unable to get the referees’ attention, though. The players could have called one, too.
”It would be hard for Joakim to make the play because the ball’s in his hands, but the other guys have the ability to signal to the officials to make the timeout call,” Thibodeau said. ”We were in trouble.”
It would help if Boozer would find his rhythm, but foul problems have helped limit him to an average of 12.0 points in this series.
Rose is averaging 28.3 points but is shooting just over 35 percent through the first four games, and he’s taking a beating when he goes to the rim, particularly from Jeff Foster.
The Pacers’ forward had hard shots on him and Luol Deng in Game 3 upgraded to flagrant 1 fouls, and although at least some fans would love to see retaliation, the Bulls aren’t about to go there.
”It’s all about us playing our game,” Gibson said. ”Don’t get distracted with all the he-said, she-said. Just play our game.”