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Steve Aschburner

Darren Collison
With Darren Collison possibly out for Game 3, it might be hard for Indiana to get up.
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Pacers wrestle with could-have-beens while Bulls pull away


Posted Apr 19 2011 11:07AM

CHICAGO -- A few minutes before Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger sat down behind a microphone to talk about his team's 0-2 plight against the Chicago Bulls, he shared the same views in an impassioned, frustrated dry run to some teammates.

Flanked by Paul George, Lance Stephenson, A.J. Price and Solomon Jones in the rapidly emptying visitors' dressing room, with Monday already turned to Tuesday, Granger tugged on his suit and vented a little. He had taken his time absorbing the Pacers' 96-90 loss in Game 2 at United Center, sitting in full uniform, his bare feet plunged into ice water, while most of the cameras and microphones came and went.

Indiana's best player stared at the scoresheet, set it on the chair next to him and, sighing, hand to forehead, looked away. Then he picked it up, studied hard and started the cycle again. If he was looking for talking points, he had found them. Fact is, there really was only one.

"It's all Derrick Rose!" Granger told those other Pacers when they were buttoning up shirts and tying shoelaces. "They shot 38.6 percent -- that's a winning stat. Or it should be, every night! But it's D-Rose. He's got the ball in his hands every play!"

No news there. But then, this wasn't meant as educational. More inspirational. Or just emotional.

Frank Vogel, the Pacers' coach, was the same way after the game. His unblinking eyes scanned the room between reporters' questions, searching for ... the next question? Or answers? Eventually, he was asked about his young team's resiliency, getting so close not once but twice, yet ending up so far from the results they needed.

"Do you guys have any question about that?" Vogel said. "I don't."

Vogel and Granger know all the right answers and still see the Pacers end up wrong. Indiana's confidence in the first round of the playoffs is moving in lockstep with its doubt, and there is a footrace going on to determine which wins.

Whatever strides the Pacers have taken by throwing consecutive scares into the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, they have backpedaled to two losses in a rapidly passing series. However much credit they can take for making Chicago uncomfortable -- two W's that feel like L's to the Bulls and their fans -- that and $6 will buy them a fancy cup of coffee somewhere.

Indiana still is stuck with the same problem it had when this series was 0-0: containing Rose and all he creates for his team's offense. Vogel's defense tried completely different tactics Monday with almost identical outcomes. After exacting a physical toll whenever Rose drove into the lane in Game 1, the Pacers threw double-teams at the point guard 25 feet from the basket to use up shot clock and force him to pass.

So instead of giving up 39 points to Rose, they gave up 36. Instead of forcing three turnovers with six assists, they forced six with six. Instead of sending him to the foul line for a 19-of-21 free throw-palooza, they make it 12-of-13.

Instead of allowing Chicago to lead for just 48 seconds of Game 1, the Pacers limit that to a still-respectable 18:11 of Game 2. Instead of yielding 104 points and losing by five, they give up 96 -- and lose by six.

"I feel like this is the sequel to the Derrick Rose show," Granger said. "It's the same thing, another day. ... It is far from over. We've been right there with 'em till the final few minutes. It's disappointing, but we know coming back to our home court, we have a legitimate chance of tying this thing up."

Two unhappy teams will make the trek to Indianapolis for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday. The Bulls know they have not played well. They have been flirting with ... wel, if not disaster, some full-blown panic within their fan base.

They saw how effectively Pacers rookie Paul George was at times pestering Rose, with the help of those big men doubling, and how George's confidence had grown by game's end. They were reminded of the limitations of their own attack, with no one capable of generating offense without Rose at one end of the play or the other.

Even with coach Tom Thibodeau all but sprinkling rose petals in Carlos Boozer's path to get him going early Monday, they didn't solve Vogel's strategies until the very end, when Rose found Joakim Noah, who found Kyle Korver for the 3-pointer that made it 90-85 with 1:04 left.

Indiana knows a lot of things now, too, few of them happy. Darren Collison, the Pacers' point guard with quickness to match Rose's, crumpled on the baseline in the second quarter after landing on a cameraman. He was done for the night with a sprained left ankle and is questionable for Game 3 (though with two days to heal). Collison was going extra-hard to the basket in hopes of drawing a third foul on Rose -- two in the first quarter already had messed with Thibodeau's rotation -- but the zesty play backfired. What had been a 45-36 Indiana lead soon enough turned into a 59-52 deficit, with neither A.J. Price nor T.J. Ford making life tough enough on Rose and the Bulls.

So two unhappy teams will trek to Indy. But one of them is two victories away from a clean start, the other chasing four in five games. The math looms large now, whether it is Chicago's massive rebounding advantage (106-74), the Pacers' 20-point deficit scoring in the paint or Rose's 34 trips to the foul line.

A play here, a player there and one or both of the first two games on Indiana's side of the ledger would have helped the Pacers' mindset immensely. Instead, they might as well have suffered two blowouts. That might sting more, but at least it would be easier to shake off.

Indiana's confidence and doubt are neck-and-neck right now. But the race that matters most is ending fast. And the Bulls are clearly ahead.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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