Chicago’s fans traveled to Indiana by the thousands, planning to celebrate a first-round playoff sweep.
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The Pacers sent the red and black-clad swarm back home disappointed. After fourth-quarter collapses in each of the first three games, Indiana avoided elimination by holding off a furious rally to beat the Bulls 89-84 in Game 4 of the first-round Eastern Conference series on Saturday afternoon.
The Pacers not only faced superstar guard Derrick Rose and the pressure of a 3-0 deficit in the series, they dealt with an unexpected roadblock — a hostile environment on its home floor at Conseco Fieldhouse. The crowd shocked Pacers center Jeff Foster, who’s played for the Pacers for his entire 12-year NBA career.
”I have seen every professional game in this arena, and I have never seen anything like that,” he said.
The young Pacers maintained their composure.
”We’ve lost games like this recently where they have come back,” Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel said. ”Today we grew, and we held them off.”
The Bulls still lead the series 3-1 and will have a chance to close it out at home Tuesday.
Danny Granger led the Pacers with 24 points, including four free throws in the final 14.1 seconds while being booed. He said the team remembered its earlier failures in the series.
”Maybe there were a few flashbacks,” he said. ”More importantly, I was just trying to get my team to calm down. We lost our poise those last two or three minutes and I was just trying to get them calmed down a little bit.”
Chicago’s Carlos Boozer missed a three-pointer that could have tied the game in the closing seconds. The Bulls were looking to set up Luol Deng for the final shot.
”I caught the ball at the elbow and I was supposed to set a backscreen for Luol,” Joakim Noah, who led the Bulls with 21 points and 14 rebounds, said. ”They played it well, they denied the dribble handoff. Really, it was a mental mistake. When you’re in that position, you’ve got to call timeout, so we learn from it.”
The Pacers never trailed and broke through after losing the first three games by a combined 15 points. The Pacers squandered double-digit leads in the first two games and a five-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
It was Indiana’s first playoff win since 2006.
Vogel had been disappointed that Indiana’s efforts against the top seed in the East hadn’t been rewarded with a win.
”I think we deserve to be in the series,” he said. ”I’m still upset that it’s 1-3. We should be up in the series.”
Rose, who averaged 32.7 points in the first three games, finished with 15 points and 10 assists. He sprained his left ankle late in the first quarter and scored eight points on 3-for-16 shooting the rest of the way.
”A sprained ankle is going to slow you down a little bit, but all of my shots were on line,” he said. ”They were just short. No excuses. It’s the playoffs. I’ve sprained my ankle many times, you’ve just got to make shots.”
Chicago trailed 84-71 with 2:17 remaining before making a final rally.
A three-point play by Deng cut Indiana’s lead to 84-77 with 1:36 to go. A goaltending call against Roy Hibbert on a shot by Boozer sliced the deficit to 84-79 with 46.5 seconds remaining, and a steal and dunk by Rose pulled the Bulls within 84-81.
Mike Dunleavy hit the second of two free throws with 17.9 seconds left to make it 85-81.
Noah made a layup with 15.3 seconds remaining, and Foster fouled him while trying to take a charge. Noah made the free throw to cut Indiana’s lead to 85-84.
The Pacers barely got the ball inbounds, but Granger was fouled with 14.1 seconds left. Through a booing crowd on his home court, he made both free throws to make it 87-84.
Boozer’s three-point try from the left corner was short, and Granger rebounded. Granger made two free throws with a second remaining to close the deal.
The Bulls shot just 38 percent.
Rose came up hobbling after going for a layup against Darren Collison. Rose went to the locker room briefly before returning to the bench. He re-entered the game with 10:29 left in the second quarter.
Indiana closed the first half on a 17-3 run to take a 49-33 lead at the break. Ten different Pacers scored before halftime.
Early in the third quarter, Hibbert blocked Rose on a layup attempt. Granger collected the rebound then dribbled nearly the length of the floor for a layup to give the Pacers a 55-37 lead.
Things nearly fell apart for Indiana again, but the Pacers had just enough.
”The mentality is play it like it’s the last game you ever play in your life,” Granger said. ”We played like that tonight.”
The Bulls now have to regroup for the first time this postseason.
”It’s a tough loss,” Noah said. ”We didn’t play well in the first half, so we definitely have to do a better job with that, and I think we’re a team that deals with adversity pretty well.”
NOTES: The league upgraded two of Foster’s hits from Thursday’s game to flagrant 1 fouls. Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before the game he had no reaction to it. … All four games at Conseco Fieldhouse between the Bulls and Pacers this season were sellouts. The Pacers, including the playoffs, had only eight sellouts all year. … The Pacers wore gold uniforms instead of their usual home whites.