Pacers have no answers for Rose
As the Indiana Pacers battled the heavily favored Chicago Bulls down to the wire for the second consecutive game Monday night, Indiana’s game plan to slow Derrick Rose seemed unchanged.
Sure, Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried using some taller defenders, such as 6-foot-8 rookie Paul George early and 6-8 Danny Granger late. They sent Rose to the foul line 13 times, an accomplishment considering that Rose shot 42 free throws in his previous two games against the Pacers.
They avoided hard fouls completely after pounding Rose at least four times in Game 1. Finally, the Pacers tossed a couple of surprise double-teams at the MVP favorite in the fourth quarter, but that was nothing significant.
The bottom line is this: The No. 8 seed Pacers can be as pesky as they want to be. But in any game, especially one as sloppy as the Bulls' 96-90 victory Monday in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal, players like Rose will usually make the difference between winning and losing.
Indiana can play with the Bulls. That has been established. The Pacers can hustle and scrap and play defense in a manner that hasn't been seen in years in Indy. But stopping Rose at any point in this series appears to be farfetched.
After piling up 36 points, eight rebounds and six assists on Monday, Rose has averaged -- averaged! -- 39 points in his past three games against Indiana.
Maybe another gutty team effort can turn the tables when the series shifts to Indianapolis on Thursday for Game 3. As it stands now, the Pacers appear to be fighting a losing cause. Fighting as hard as they possibly can, maybe, but still losing.
"The only thing we can do is get better," Rose said. "We played, I think, our worst and we were blessed to get these two wins. When we get things rolling, we're going to be tough."
The numbers back up Rose's assessment. The Bulls piled up 22 turnovers and shot just 38.6 percent from the field. But even a game this ugly can be saved by someone with Rose's talent.
He hit 4 of 5 shots from the field and all five of his free throws while scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter. His driving one-hander and 3-point play put the Bulls ahead for good at 79-78 with 5:16 left. Rose tacked on a jumper over Granger, two free throws and a driving layup against heavy defensive pressure from center Jeff Foster to give the Bulls an 87-83 lead with 2:11 remaining.
"I feel like it is a sequel to the Derrick Rose show," said Granger, who led the Pacers with 19 points. "It really just happened all over again."
Indiana is 1-5 against the Bulls this season, and the formula for victory in a March 18 regular-season game was jumping to a 20-point lead in the second half, watching Rose score 19 in the fourth quarter to tie it up, then finding more energy in overtime while the Bulls played the second leg of back-to-back road games.
Vogel seemed to enjoy the spotlight that came with his team's near-miss in Game 1. After the second narrow loss in this series, his answers were short and his voice was quiet.
"We did a great job on (Rose) all night," said Vogel, who was promoted to head coach on Jan. 30 after Jim O'Brien was fired. "I'm very pleased with the effort of our guys. We're standing toe-to-toe with this team."
The Bulls dominated the rebounds 57-33 and could make an argument that the game wouldn't have been close at the end if they'd tipped a few more of those putbacks into the net instead of the iron.
None of that will matter if Rose continues his run of fourth-quarter domination. Coach Tom Thibodeau was asked if he's concerned the Bulls are relying on their star too much.
"No. He's a leader," Thibodeau answered. "He runs our team great and I think he wants the challenge."
Now who will accept the challenge of stopping him?
Mike McGraw is in his 12th season covering the Bulls for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago.