Posted Apr 26 2011 10:44AM
CHICAGO -- Before we launch into the official lookahead at Game 5 of the Chicago-Indiana first-round playoff series, let's pause briefly for an unpaid basketball endorsement:
Frank Vogel needs to have the "interim" tag erased from his role as head coach of the Pacers.
Whatever NBA general managers or presidents of basketball operations look for when they tab someone to work their teams' sidelines, Vogel seems to have in spades. Maximize your club's potential? Check. Indiana was 10 games under .500 (17-27) when Vogel was flipped the keys in a season that appeared destined to be its fifth in a row missing the postseason. It went 20-18 the rest of the way, with a 10-5 kick near the end to nail down the East's No. 8 seed.
Inspire the troops? Check. The Pacers seem to love playing for Vogel. They exhaled when his positive preachings alleviated the more oppressive mood set by former coach Jim O'Brien, who had endured the roster makeover. That made them willing to go along as Vogel has demanded more this spring.
Perform well under pressure? Check. Locked into what might have been considered the least competitive first-round series, the Pacers have played well enough to be tied 2-2 or lead 3-1 rather than trail 1-3 heading into the game Tuesday night at United Center. They have led in the fourth quarter in each game. Their defense has limited the Bulls to 39.8 percent field-goal shooting. After being outrebounded by a combined 39 in Games 1 and 2, the Pacers nearly matched Chicago's work on the boards at Conseco Fieldhouse (88-87).
Vogel has taken players from the spare-parts bin -- rookie Paul George, reserves Dahntay Jones and A.J. Price -- and made life difficult for MVP favorite Derrick Rose, mixing defenders and looks while either pressuring the ball out of Rose's hands or extracting a physical toll when he pushes toward the rim. He has gotten center Roy Hibbert to play tall again, kept his big guy's length between Carlos Boozer and a respectable series and unleashed enough hounds to bother the Bulls into 42 first-half turnovers in the four games, messing with Chicago's flow.
"Our execution could be a lot better," Bulls guard Kyle Korver told reporters Monday. "We're trying to find our flow at that end. A lot of it has to do with how they're trapping Derrick. We're not getting into our sets really quick. We see the shot clock is at seven [seconds] or eight, and we're like, 'Oh, we can't run our whole play now.' So we have to get in our sets quicker. We've talked a lot about that the last couple of days."
The Bulls could have taken Sunday off and spent Monday and Tuesday talking instead about the Orlando-Atlanta series, if not for the job Vogel has done with the Pacers in forcing them to five games and daring them now to go six. It's folly to tell Indiana president of basketball operations Larry Bird what to do in a basketball decision, but imagine how the Pacers might respond if "interim" were scrubbed off Vogel's title in a well-timed, Hollywood-style announcement about an hour before tipoff for Game 5.
Now back to our regularly scheduled game-day coverage ...
It's all riding on Rose's sprained left ankle. Somehow the Bulls' point guard played more than 32 minutes in Game 4 after rolling his ankle late in the first quarter. He shot 3-of-16 and scored just eight points after that, though he did solve Indiana's pressure enough for 10 assists in a second half Chicago won 51-40.
Rose has had X-rays and an MRI, has spent time in a walking boot and has not practiced since he was seen hobbling slowly postgame Saturday, in shower clogs and full uniform, to a treatment room at the Fieldhouse. He said Monday he will take a painkiller shot for Game 5.
Besides Rose's ankle, there will be other Bulls body parts getting scrutinized, from Korver's fingertips (he's 8-of-10 on 3-pointers in the series vs. teammates' 15-of-64) to Joakim Noah's elbows (time to get pushy, Jo) to Boozer's foam biceps (more show than "Oh!"). Coach Tom Thibodeau has reminded his players not to settle for a perimeter game, to work their offense inside-out, to stay aggressive and to match Indiana's more obvious physical play.
Which is just one more argument on Vogel's behalf: Thibodeau, a top candidate for NBA Coach of the Year, is reacting and adjusting to a fellow still lugging around "interim."
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