April 2011: Caught in the Web Indiana Pacers blog by Conrad Brunner
Bird, Vogel hope to remain with Pacers
Will Bird be back to run the team next season and beyond?
Will Vogel remain as coach?
Those two, along with virtually every other member of the basketball staff, are wrapping up the final seasons of their contracts. Vogel's status depends largely upon that of Bird. And the team President's status hinges on an upcoming meeting with owner Herb Simon.
"The big question of mine to him is, 'Now we have the money, are we going to be able to spend it? We waited three years to get to this point, now what can we do? What are you going to let us do?' " Bird said. "There's a lot of questions that are going to be asked and I want to see what direction he wants to go."
Bird said he hoped to meet with Simon "in the next week or two" while making it clear he was hoping for a quick resolution.
"I would like to settle this today so we can get moving here but I do have an owner," he said. "I have a boss and he wants me to go through the draft. Hopefully in the next week or two I can find out what's going on and we can get some things done. We've got a lockout looming and it's really on his timetable."
Will Bird be able to finish what he started?
Bird has been with the franchise 11 of the past 14 years, the first three as head coach, the past eight in the front office. He assumed full control of basketball operations prior to the 2008-09 season facing a bloated payroll and disjointed roster and pledged the team would reach the playoffs in three years. That goal was achieved with the first postseason berth since 2006, a five-game first-round loss to Chicago.
Now Bird is poised for the summer he has been building toward. A talented young nucleus is in place; all five starters are among the 10 players under contract for 2011-12; and there will be salary cap space with which to complement the existing core.
"I understand our situation here with the Pacers the last three years. We've lost a lot of money," Bird said. "I know that Mr. Simon doesn't want to jump back in there and be up against the (luxury) tax again right away. We've got to be selective in who we draft and who we go get in free agency. I understand all that.
"But if you're going to be competitive in this league and you're in a situation to be competitive, you've got to take advantage of it."
The Pacers went 20-18 after Vogel replaced Jim O'Brien. In his first head coaching experience, Vogel implemented comprehensive changes in midstream, altering the lineup, rotations and offensive and defensive schemes. Throughout it all he remained a fountain of enthusiasm, unafraid to make bold statements that reflected his belief in the talent.
"I think Frank did an excellent job," said Bird, "stepping in without the experience of a head-coaching job and the way he conducted himself, he brought positive energy to this team."
Vogel said he believed it necessary for the decision-makers to take their time, step back and evaluate the situation with clear heads before moving forward. He also made it abundantly clear he wants to remain both because of his allegiance to the franchise but his family's happiness in its home of the past five years.
"I've got a great deal of confidence in my ability to coach," Vogel said. "It's one thing I've learned over the last three months, that I can do this. I'm confident in my leadership abilities, my management abilities, my coaching abilities. It's been an honor to have these last three months, it would be an honor to coach the team in the future."
In the meantime, it all depends on how things go when Simon meets with Bird.
"If I like what I hear I'll probably be back," Bird said. "But if there's some things he sees in the job performance I did and he's not comfortable with it, it might be time for a new voice."
Pain of defeat fuels motivation to improve
Indianapolis (April 27, 2011) -- This is why reaching the playoffs, even as the eighth seed, even to lose in five games, is such an irreplaceable experience in the evolution of a young team:
"I'm going to remember this moment all summer, sitting down here, what was said on the court, and it's going to drive me to work harder," said Roy Hibbert, slumped in his locker after the Pacers were eliminated 116-89 in Game 5 Tuesday night in Chicago. "Seriously, once you get a taste of it, you want to be back. I'm going to take some rest and then get back to it, get in the gym, be ready to come back next year."
In their otherwise heart-stopping, gut-wrenching first-round loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Pacers took their first step up the ladder. They know now what the big deal is about the playoffs. They know now that not only does the environment change, the game itself transforms. They know now the value of every possession.
And perhaps most importantly, they know now the difference that can be made in the six months and 82 games that serve as prelude.
"Imagine if we played that way throughout the whole season," said Darren Collison. "Maybe we'd get better seeded, have even more confidence, more exposure under our belt. I'm definitely happy for this team's future."
There are many issues to be decided in the coming weeks, beginning with decisions about the decision-makers themselves. Beginning with team President Larry Bird, General Manager David Morway and interim Coach Frank Vogel, virtually every contract on the basketball side of the operation expires on June 30. Five players (Jeff Foster, Mike Dunleavy, Josh McRoberts, T.J. Ford and Solomon Jones) become free agents.
But the core of this team is intact. All five starters -- Collison, Hibbert, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Granger -- are under contract.
The pain of the present will fuel the purpose of the future.
"I feel terrible right now; we just got eliminated," said Granger, who averaged 21.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals in the series. "We did have growth as a team, a young team, and we showed it. We let a few games get a way in this series. It should've been extended but that's the way the ball rolls sometimes.
"Yeah, we grew but we lost. We let games get away and it's a learning experience. Hopefully we'll take this into next season and build on it and when we get back in the playoffs next year we won't have a letdown."
The climb to contention takes time. Reggie Miller experienced four straight years of first-round exits before the breakthrough of 1994. But the team's foundation was poured in the process and remained unshakeable for six remarkable years.
It is difficult at the moment for the current players to think in terms of what lies ahead, of the base they have established from which to build. But for the first time in years when a player talks about next season the words are spoken with the conviction of experience
"It does hurt. It's disappointing," said Collison. "We've just got to go into the offseason and use this as motivation. We've got to come together this summer and work hard. We have to remember this feeling. We can't forget this feeling. This is the feeling that's going to make us get better next year."
"Villain" Foster having big impact on series
Then again, Jeff Foster's impact never has been measured by numbers, other than those in the left-hand column of the standings.
Because of his aggressive, physical play against the Bulls, Foster has been called, among other things, a "thug" and a "goon" by the Chicago media. One columnist went so far as to say he graduated from "the University of Stupid."
Not sure the folks at Texas State appreciate that.
His detractors couldn't have it more wrong.
Foster knows what it takes in the playoffs. He is the last link to the 2000 NBA Finals Pacers (though he was not on the playoff roster his rookie season). With 52 games, he has more playoff experience than the rest of the Pacers' rotation combined -- and more than anyone on the Bulls roster except Kurt Thomas.
Foster has gone a long way toward establishing the Pacers' physical, defensive, competitive personality that has turned the series from an anticipated walkover to a procession of heart-stopping duels heading into Game 5 tonight in United Center.
"He's been key in establishing it all year, not just in the playoffs," said coach Frank Vogel. "He's a physical basketball player. He brings a defensive mindset that you need to have if you're going to be a playoff team and if you're going to be able to succeed in the playoffs.
"In terms of what everybody else is saying about him, I think anybody that knows basketball has nothing but respect for the way he plays. He's not taking cheap shots. There's no plays out there where he's trying to hurt anybody. He's just playing hard-nosed, physical, good basketball. And anybody that knows basketball knows that's winning basketball."
Yet, largely due to two hard fouls in Game 3 that later were upgraded to Flagrant Type 1 after NBA review, Foster has become the bad guy, the target of Bulls' fans wrath, the subject of the columnists competing to produce the most mean-spirited one-liner.
"You know what? If they need a villain, it looks like I'm their guy," Foster said. "The Bulls have great fans. It should be a fun game. I look forward to going in there and trying to bring it back to Indianapolis."
Because his contract expires after this season, the potential exists for this to be the last game for Foster, 34, with the Pacers. As the last link to the team's glory days, he believes a new era could be dawning with the current group.
"As hard as the last several years were, it's just great for these new guys that are here and the guys that have been around these losing years to have the opportunity to play in front of crowds like this, get a sense of what it's like to win and be in the playoffs," he said. "It gives you something to play for in the future."
But first, Foster and the Pacers play for the present, to extend their postseason at least one more game in an arena where his every move will be the target of fans' ire.
"That'd be kind of cool, if I got booed," Foster said with a smile. "I'll continue to play my game, just do what I do, play hard and try to help my team win in whatever way possible."
Surprising defense gives Pacers a fighting chance
Not only can the Pacers defend, they can do so at an exceptionally high level.
Entering the postseason, the Pacers did not carry much of a reputation as a defensive team. They ranked 17th in the league in points allowed, though a respectable seventh in field-goal percentage defense. But they have shown impressive commitment to that phase of the game.
They've held the Bulls below 40 percent three games in a row, including a series-low .378 in Indiana's 89-84 victory in Game 4 Saturday in Conseco Fieldhouse. The last time they held three straight opponents to sub-.400 shooting came during the 2005-06 season -- not coincidentally their last in the playoffs prior to this year.
"I think we're a group that's playing together," said Paul George. "Everyone has each other's back and when it comes down to it and you're playing a great team like Chicago, everybody has to be dialed in. I think we're at the point where everyone is dialed in and everybody's peaking as a unit at the right time."
At the point of attack, interim coach Frank Vogel made a key adjustment before Game 3 when he brought Dahntay Jones off the bench for the first time in the series and used him as a complement to George in the defense of Derrick Rose.
Against this two-man tag-team, Rose has shot 10-of-40 (.250) overall, 3-of-15 (.200) from the 3-point line and totaled 38 points -- nearly half his output of the first two games when he racked up 75 points. George leads the Pacers in steals (seven) and blocked shots (eight) in the series.
"They are both doing an equally great job," Vogel said. "I have a hard time deciding who to go with down the stretch. They are both very different types of defenders. Paul is all over the place with his hands, he's great with spacing and understanding angles of containment and challenging shots late. Dahntay is just under the kid's chin the whole game."
Jones made the biggest defensive play of the series for the Pacers in Game 4. With Indiana clinging to an 87-84 lead in the closing seconds, he blanketed Rose on an inbounds play, denying him the ball. The best the Bulls could do was a corner 3-pointer from Carlos Boozer (the first trey of his playoff career) that missed, enabling the Pacers to survive.
"I think they have done an outstanding job," said Danny Granger. "Dahntay has made a reputation in this league for playing aggressive defense. He is probably one of the best one-on-one defenders in this league. Paul with his athleticism, I think with a taller, athletic guard on Derrick it makes it more difficult to get his jump shots off.
"He can still get to the rim when he wants but that’s when the rest of the team comes in and they have done a tremendous job."
For the series, Chicago is averaging 93 points on 39.8 percent shooting, 31.1 percent from the 3-point line. The Bulls, who take a 3-1 lead into Game 5 Tuesday night in United Center, have outscored the Pacers by 25 from the free-throw line with Rose scoring 46 of his 113 points from the stripe -- although he was just 2-of-4 in Game 4.
"We are just executing our scheme," said Vogel. "We are giving (Rose) a number of different looks. And we are playing with a great deal of passion, energy and fight -- it is that simple."
Simple, perhaps, but definitely not easy.
Three plays turned 3-0 into 0-3
April 21, 2011
In any game, at any time, under any conditions, one play can make the difference between victory or defeat.
They have played with incredible grit and determination in a first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, and yet have nothing to show for it. The Pacers head to Game 4 on Saturday in Conseco Fieldhouse facing elimination.
But for three plays -- one in each game -- they could instead be looking at a closeout opportunity, up 3-0 rather than down 3-0.
This is not intended to assign blame to any of the players involved, but rather to illustrate how thin the margin between the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.
Game 1: The layup
Tyler Hansbrough played brilliantly in the opener, racking up 22 points and dominating his matchup with Bulls star Carlos Boozer. Hansbrough scored seven in a row, including the ultimate embarrassment of Boozer: Hansbrough stole the ball from the veteran, raced the length of the court for a dunk, drawing Boozer's fifth foul in the process. That three-point play put the Pacers up 98-88 with 3:38 left.
We all know what happened next. Derrick Rose took over, the Pacers didn't make another basket and the Bulls closed with a 16-1 run to win 104-99.
The play that might've changed it all came early in the run, after the Bulls cut the lead to 98-92. Hansbrough drive down the lane against Boozer but missed the layup and the rebound turned into a Bulls fast break that resulted in a dunk for Joakim Noah. Instead of a 100-92 lead, which might've stemmed Chicago's rising tide, it was 98-94 with 2½ minutes left and the floodgates were fully opened.
Game 2: The twist
A big spark in Game 1 with 17 points, nine assists, six rebounds and two steals, Darren Collison was once again igniting the Pacers in Game 2. His driving layup with 2:32 remaining in the first half built a 45-36 lead and it looked like the Pacers were going to head into the locker room with firm control of the game.
Instead, Collison's ankle turned and with it the game.
Collison tumbled out of bounds after the drive and became tangled with photographers on the baseline, spraining his left ankle in the process.
When Collison limped to the locker room, the Pacers faltered just long enough for the Bulls to complete reverse the momentum. Chicago went on a 23-7 run spanning the break to take a 59-52 lead, forcing the Pacers to play catch-up the rest of the night and the Bulls went on to win 96-90.
Game 3: The run-stopper
Danny Granger was feeling it in the fourth quarter, making four jumpers, including a tough step-back on the right baseline that wiped out a five-point Chicago lead and tied it at 84-all with 1:42 left, sending the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd into a full-blown frenzy.
When the Pacers came up with a defensive stop, the home team had its big chance for a magic moment.
They got the ball to the hot hand and Granger spun open when Luol Deng went for the steal, but his slightly off-balance look from 18 feet rimmed out. Rookie Paul George won the scramble for the rebound, providing a second chance, and the Pacers called a timeout with 55.4 seconds left to set up the critical possession.
On the ensuing play, Granger popped open on the right wing for an instant as two Bulls defenders got tangled but Collison elected to drive into the lane, where he missed a 13-foot floater.
Had either shot fallen, the Pacers would've had the lead control of the closing seconds, which instead shifted to the Bulls when Rose drove through the defense for a decisive layup with 17.8 seconds remaining.
Rather than entering their final full possession with the safety net of overtime beneath, the Pacers instead faced the desperation of a deficit and could not get a good look as Granger missed a long 3-pointer and Ronnie Brewer closed out the 88-84 Chicago victory at the line.
Price ready for whatever role awaits
April 21, 2011
Darren Collison can't imagine a scenario in which he wouldn't at least try to play tonight.
The Pacers, however, are preparing as if A.J. Price will start at the point in Game 3 against the Chicago Bulls.
"I'm preparing to not have him," said interim coach Frank Vogel. "I'm preparing for A.J. Price to start and T.J. (Ford) to back him up."
Price started the second half of Indiana's 96-90 loss in Game 2 Monday in Chicago and finished with 13 points and one assist.
"I'm just prepared to play and contribute, wherever it may be, starting or not," Price said. "I haven't heard anything as far as what it's going to be for tomorrow so my approach mentally is going to be the same way it's been all year. I'm just going to be ready to play however many minutes that may be."
Collison injured the ankle when he got tangled with baseline photographers late in the first half of Game 2.
"To be honest, I'm going to do whatever it takes to be out there," he said. "If I don't play tomorrow, I'll be shocked myself. It's the playoffs. I need to be out there to help my team."
Pacers facing must-win scenario
A loss tonight would leave the Pacers down 0-3 and facing the potential of being swept. A victory would put them right back in the series.
"We're looking at it like a must-win, without a doubt," said Price. "It's not over if we lose but it is over if we lose, in my opinion. We need to come out tomorrow and play like our backs are against the wall."
Leading scorer Danny Granger agreed.
"This game is really a must-win, do-or-die," he said. "You get down 0-3 in a series, it's really, really hard to come back."
Vogel had a different perspective.
"We don't look at it like that," he said. "We have one game to win. We're not looking at the hole or 0-2. We have one game to win and that's all our focus is on right now."
Corbeil, Eaton honored for saving Leonard's life
Head trainer Josh Corbeil and assistant Carl Eaton will be honored as Indiana Heroes during tonight's game for their role in saving the life of Bobby "Slick" Leonard, who suffered a severe heart attack on the team bus after a victory in New York on March 13.
"We've talked about that a lot, about all the different variables of how it could've gone poorly," said Corbeil. "We're lucky that the bus wasn't moving. We're lucky we weren't on an airplane. We're lucky that he wasn't outside walking around."
The two administered several minutes of vigorous CPR and used a defibrillator four times to keep Leonard alive until an ambulance arrived. Leonard will be in the radio booth tonight.
"We did what we're trained to do," said Eaton. "I don't feel like a hero."
They will be honored during a timeout in the first quarter.
"I'm just hoping," said Corbeil, "we're not busy with something else during that timeout."
Pacers try to plug rebounding leak
The Pacers have been outrebounded 106-67, with Chicago pulling 41 offensive rebounds.
"It's a major concern," said Vogel. "It's more of a concern than Derrick Rose."
Vogel said Rose's penetration causes the big men to rotate to help, taking them out of rebounding position. As a result, more players need to become engaged in the battle of the boards.
"Rebounding is always a five-man job from the center to the point guard," said Granger. "Everyone has to help, especially when they have bigs like Carlos Boozer and (Joakim) Noah, who are really active offensive rebounders. It's definitely a team effort."
Pacers anticipate big lift from home crowd
This will the first playoff game in Conseco Fieldhouse since May 4, 2006, when the Nets closed out a first-round series with a 96-90 victory.
Pacers players and coaches hope the atmosphere can give them a much-needed edge against the Bulls.
"Any time you're on the road and you're trying to execute in the last two minutes of a game it's going to be extremely difficult because you're playing against their defense, the crowd itself is very loud, it's hard to hear the play calls and things like that," said Price. "It'll be good to have the crowd on our side."
The Pacers are 51-27 in the postseason at home, 21-15 at CFH.
"It's going to be mayhem, it's going to be crazy, it's going to be awesome," said Vogel. "It's going to be the way Conseco Fieldhouse was meant to be."
George relishes challenge of guarding Rose
April 20, 2011
You would, of course, be wrong.
"I give him an A-plus," Frank Vogel said of Paul George's work.
Assigning a rookie wing player to defend any point guard is a bold move. Assigning a rookie wing player to defend this point guard, the hottest player in the game, the likely league MVP, is something else entirely.
Then again, so is George.
When the Pacers returned home from Chicago after a 96-90 loss in Game 2 Monday night, George did not head home for some much-needed rest. Instead, at 4 a.m., he and a friend drove straight to Conseco Fieldhouse for a couple of hours of extra work.
George said he put up around 1,000 shots and ran through some plays that had given him problems.
"I was more motivated than anything so me and my (friend) came in, got some shots up, he rebounded for me, got a lot of free throws," George said. "I just went through the scenarios that I turned the ball over late in the game. The play that coach Frank kept calling for me where I was isolated at the top, I kept going through that series just so that doesn't happen again."
George had four blocked shots and three steals in Game 2. Vogel said he set a team record with 18 deflections.
"I thought he was spectacular on (Rose)," said Vogel. "A couple of breakdowns but a couple of breakdowns over the course of a long game, I thought he did a great job. He was great with his hands, great with his angles. I was just very proud of him."
George has done extensive film study on Rose to try to pick up some tendencies. With each game, he learns a little more, develops a more detailed plan of attack. Shutting down Rose is out of the question. Making his life difficult is the first step.
"He had me tired, legs cramping, back sore," George said. "I tried to give him my all, really tried to force him to take some tough shots and make him try to make some tough passes, and really tried to get the ball out of his hands. But he's a great scorer, a great player and he ultimately made the best plays."
Since moving into the starting lineup on March 9, George's emphasis has shifted from offense to defense. With the second unit he was more of a go-to guy. With the first unit, he's trying be the stopper.
His commitment to that role has made a big impression on Vogel.
"You see talented guys come into this league every single year and some of them blossom and some of them don't," he said. "It's about what you're made up of inside. And that kid is made up of hunger and the ability to learn, the ability to listen, the desire to be great.
"Aside from his physical talents, all those things give us a great deal of hope and belief that kid's going to be special."
George is not expected to stop Rose. He is not expected to contain him one-on-one. All five Indiana defenders have a role to play. George is the man on point, so to speak.
However this series turns out, the Pacers have learned quite a bit about their prized rookie, the No. 10 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. George is one of those rare players who not only has the talent but the desire, the will, the work ethic, to become special.
It's a long journey from here to there but that early-morning trip to the gym shows George knows the way.
Pacers look for answers in crunch time
April 19, 2011
And yet the Pacers home with nothing to show for their efforts aside from a frustrating 0-2 deficit.
As they return to their Conseco Fieldhouse homecourt for Games 3 and 4 Thursday and Saturday, the Pacers must find a way to execute with the game on the line.
"We just have to be better down the stretch," said Mike Dunleavy. "That's two games in a row. It comes down to focus and concentration and executing. Obviously we don't have a Derrick Rose to put the ball in somebody's hands and just let them win it. All five guys have got to be in line, we've got to make free throws and we've got to execute and make our shots."
While Rose has taken over the big moments, scoring 17 points in the final five minutes of the first two games, the Pacers are searching for their crunch-time savior. Leading scorer Danny Granger has been blanketed by the Chicago defense and has not made a field goal in the final five minutes.
"One thing about the Bulls, they are really focused about taking me out of my game," Granger said. "They face-guard a lot. A lot of times when I catch the ball I have two guys in my face. That is one of the good things about their defense. They make it hard for you to get to the rim. You really have to take what they give you."
The problem is, the Bulls have giveth only in the first three quarters; in the fourth, they have taketh away.
Indiana has outscored Chicago 146-138 in the first three quarters, shooting 47 percent to the Bulls' 38 percent. In the fourth quarter, the Bulls have outscored the Pacers 62-43, shooting 54 percent to Indiana's 36 percent.
So is the bigger problem Chicago's defense or something else?
"I think it's something else," said A.J. Price, "because we've had success scoring on them throughout the game so it's not like they just turn it up another level come crunch time and we can't score. It's just us not executing.
"That's something we're going to have to look at on film to see down the clutch why we're not scoring with the same efficiency that we've been scoring the first three quarters."
Despite the frustrating nature of those first two losses, the Pacers have been the aggressors, generally outplaying the Bulls, so they come home with the confidence that they have the ability to beat the NBA's top team. The challenge is to find a way to make it happen.
"We can't really hold our heads low," said Paul George. "We know we're going home. We've really got to bring it. This is a chance where we have the advantage playing at home and we've really got to take advantage of it. If we can bring the same intensity at our house, maybe the game and the ball will roll our way at home."
Pacers' top priority: keeping Rose off the line
Chicago (April 18, 2011) -- You look at the numbers and wonder.
In these last two games against the Bulls, including Game 1 of the first-round playoff series Saturday, the Pacers held Derrick Rose to 42 percent shooting overall, 2-of-17 from the 3-point line. He produced just eight assists against seven turnovers.
And yet Chicago's point guard dominated both games thanks largely to his ability to offset modest shooting efficiency with a prolific number of trips to the free-throw line.
If the Pacers are to beat Chicago in Game 2 tonight in United Center, they must first find a way to expand their containment of Rose to the stripe.
"That's what Derrick Rose is," said interim coach Frank Vogel. "Not a lot of them were bad calls. Most of them were just him being aggressive and getting him to the basket. We've got to have a wall of defenders every time he goes in there. It's that simple."
Rose's career high for attempts is 21, which just happens to be the number he has reached in each of those two games. Just for perspective, this is a guy that averaged 6.9 attempts during the regular season.
How can you adjust to that?
"Just stay in tune with each other, keep him out of the paint as much as possible and the most important thing is keeping him off the foul line," said Indiana point guard Darren Collison. "For the most part I thought we did a good job contesting his shots when we needed but when we fouled him, there could've been some needless fouls but guys are trying to be aggressive.
"We did a good job. We've just got to keep him off the foul line."
Therein lies the rub. You may think you've done a good job otherwise. But if any player is scoring 37 points from the line in two games, if any player is going to the line more than your entire team (as was the case in Game 1) you have not done a good enough job.
"It's a hard task," said Roy Hibbert. "It's not one man's job to do it, it's all five guys on the court. We can tweak some things. I can't give you guys all the details. We don't want Chicago to get any of our info. But we're going to change some things up."
Considering what it has taken from Rose for the Bulls to escape with one victory on those two games -- 42 points to force overtime on March 18, a game the Pacers eventually won, and 39 Saturday -- there's no burden to shut him down.
The Pacers have demonstrated Vogel's offensive approach works against Chicago, at least until the final 3-5 minutes. They've racked up 224 points in those two games.
So the pressure on the defense is not unreasonable. Shutting down Rose isn't on the agenda. Just keep him from playing any more games that will prompt talk of a new statue outside the United Center.
"Just contain him," said Danny Granger. "We can't give up 40 points, 21 free throws. That's our main priority. We realize they have other players but our main priority right now is Derrick Rose."
Confident, not dejected, Pacers vow they won't go away
But that 104-99 loss is being viewed as a young team that took its best shot, ultimately missed, had its spirit broken and will now buckle before the mighty Bulls.
But to those who continue to doubt the validity of the Pacers' presence in the postseason, of their ability to challenge the NBA's top-seeded team, I ask: how many times must they surprise you before you begin to accept they belong?
When Jim O'Brien was fired, the experts thought it was a white flag on the season because an inexperienced, relatively anonymous young assistant couldn't possibly make a difference.
When said coach, Frank Vogel, made all the right moves in guiding the team to a 20-18 record in his tenure and its first playoff berth in five years, the experts looked at the overall record (37-45) and assumed this was just another bad team that backed in and would quickly go away, happy just to get a playoff share.
Even now, after the Pacers controlled 45 minutes of Game 1, didn't trail until the 48th minute and lost only because they were overwhelmed by the best point guard of this generation, they have earned only fleeting credit for their performance.
To be sure, the only way to generate respect is to win.
Another way is to lose, but not be beaten.
"I'm telling you this right now: the next couple of games are going to be exactly like that," said Roy Hibbert. "We're not letting down. We're going to shock some people. There is no way they're going to sweep us. We're going to go out there and we're going to beat them."
Vogel said much the same thing, albeit in a different way.
"Our guys know we should have won the game," he said. "We can play with this team. We can play with any team in the NBA. This is a good basketball team. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. It’s going to be a good series."
To do that, the Pacers have three primary issues to address.
Issue 1: What to do about Rose
They knew entering the season Rose would be the key, and he was in Game 1. They threw several defenders at him while preventing any of the other Bulls stars to get rolling, and that worked for most of the game.
The Pacers had the Bulls down by 10 with 3:38 remaining and didn’t make another basket, missing their final eight shots as Rose carried Chicago to the tape with a 16-1 run. It was eerily similar to the previous meeting on March 18 in Conseco Fieldhouse, when Rose scored 19 of the team's final 20 to bring the Bulls back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime.
In those two games, Rose tallied 81 points -- with 37 coming from the free-throw line. He shot 42 percent (21 of 50), made just 2-of-17 from the 3-point line and totaled eight assists and nine turnovers.
Defending without fouling has been a problem all year, but this is way out of whack. Rose averaged 6.9 free-throw attempts during the regular season.
"We help, he drives to the basket, he’s impossible to take a charge on, so the league rule says you jump straight up and he jumps into you then there should be a no-call," said Vogel. "That’s what we’re trying to teach our guys to do. We’re trying to jump straight up earn a no-call and be a big body in the paint."
No Indiana big man has proven over time to be more adept at help defense than Jeff Foster, but even the wily veteran is having trouble working the angles against Rose.
"It's tough," he said. "I pride myself on being able to take charges but he's definitely a slippery guy when he comes in there, hard to pin down on which way he's going. He's got great body control. We've got to do a better job keeping him out of the lane, keeping him from getting to the line and to the rim in Game 2."
Issue 2: Finding the finishing touch
The Pacers have outscored the Bulls 168-144 in the first three quarters of their last two meetings.
The Bulls have outscored the Pacers 62-33 in the fourth.
"We have to work on our offense more," said Hibbert. "We faltered toward the end. We've got to figure it out."
For most of the game the Pacers moved the ball well, worked both sides of the court and got quality looks. Down the stretch, they stagnated and there was much more one-on-one play.
"In any big-game situation, the last five minutes are the most important and we could've executed at lot better," said Darren Collison. "We did what we had to do, it was just those last five minutes, so it's definitely going to be tough.
"I'm pretty sure they're going to make adjustments but we're going to make adjustments ourselves."
For the Pacers, the biggest adjustment will be in not changing their character with the game on the line. Continue to move the ball, work the entire shot clock to get the best shot possible. Don't throw up quick jumpers, take forced drives, challenge the heart of one of the league's best defenses.
Issue 3: Move on mentally
Here's the lesson the Pacers must recall and apply:
Whatever was said, whatever was done at the end of regulation on March 18, they must recapture. On that night all appeared lost after Rose's fourth-quarter onslaught but the Pacers gathered themselves, dominated the overtime period and won the game.
Now, they must do much the same thing.
"It's definitely tough but it's Game 1 of the series, we can't let this affect us," said Collison. "We've got to go into Game 2 with the same mental attitude."
At least now all of those young players no longer are playoff rookies. They have experienced the highs and lows that the postseason can generate, all in one game, and have something to draw upon.
"We've got this first one under our belts, worked those jitters off the guys that hadn't been in playoff games," said Tyler Hansbrough. "We'll take it from here and go."
Ultimately, it boils down to the players' abilities to find a way to play three more quality minutes.
"I think we'll do a good job moving past this," said Foster. "We'll have a good day of practice (Sunday). They've seen that we can play with them and we know we have to do to try to slow them down a little bit. We'll just see if we can do that Monday night."
Will Pacers make a (fashion) statement?
April 15, 2011
So by now you've read, heard and talked all about Derrick Rose, Chicago's airtight defense, the threat of Carlos Boozer, etc., etc.
But there's a reason you turn to The Official Website for your Pacers news and information, and that's because experienced, intrepid journalists have the foresight and perspective to identify and attack the truly important issues.
What are the Pacers going to wear in Chicago?
You may remember, back in the day when the playoffs were a given, the players routinely made some sort of outward gesture of unity. The most memorable, of course, came when they shaved their heads en masse.
For Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson and Dale Davis, this was no big deal. But for guys like Rik Smits, who with a hairless dome looked something like a 7-foot-4 stick of roll-on deodorant, it was a major example of taking one for the team.
More common was the decision to wear black shoes and socks, which didn't exactly complement the blue-and-gold pinstripes but I guess that was the point.
So as these young Pacers embark upon their first playoff run in five years, what do they have in store for us?
They aren't telling.
"I don't know yet," said Danny Granger. "We're thinking about it but I'm not positive. We might do black shoes, black socks. The shaved-heads idea came up but I don't know how Jeff Foster would look with a shaved head and Mike Dunleavy didn't want to cut his golden locks.
"I don't know how that's going to turn out but we might do something."
You may have noticed several blue headbands scattered throughout the lineup in the regular-season finale Wednesday in Orlando. That might've been foreshadowing.
I kind of like the black shoes and socks idea. That's a callback to the Pacers' decade of dominance in the '90s. But if these guys want to blaze their own trail -- although the blue headbands lacked panache -- more power to them.
In the playoffs, there are many ways to make a statement.
Speaking of which, there hasn't been what you'd call a controversy about Granger's comments last week about the Pacers preferring the Bulls to the Celtics (when the matchups were not yet set) but a local columnist took him to task and a prominent Chicago sportswriter asked Thursday if he would either retract the statement or apologize for giving the Bulls bulletin-board material.
"I don't believe in the bulletin board," he said. "If you're a team in the NBA that's got to get up for the playoffs, you don't need bulletin-board material, especially a team like Chicago. They're the No. 1 seed, eyes on a championship, they should be ready to play."
So he doesn't take it back?
"No," Granger said. "It's the honest truth."
That's the best kind.
There are many reasons to be glad Mike Dunleavy has finally reached the postseason but on a purely selfish level, I am happy to have someone so utterly quotable around.
Consider Thursday, when Dunleavy was asked Standard Pacers Playoff Question No. 1, about how they might try to combat their near-total lack of playoff experience.
"Jeff Foster has loved to talk about it and tell all the playoff war stories," Dunleavy said with a wry grin. "I told him, 'Hey, man, it's been four or five years since you've been there. Back then they wore low-top Converses and played with a red, white and blue ball so you may have a few things to figure out yourself.' "
Think of how much fun this has been already, and the games haven't yet begun.
Playoff tickets for the NBA First Round match-up between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are available by clicking here. The 2011 Pacers Playoffs are proudly presented by Indiana University Health, Kroger, Stanley Security Solutions and XFINITY®.
New, invaluable experience awaits Pacers
April 13, 2011
The sunny perspective of the uninitiated can be refreshing, no matter how illogical. Consider the theory advanced by 21-year-old Paul George, who has convinced himself the Pacers' almost total lack of playoff experience will somehow become an advantage.
"Not a lot of guys have been (to the playoffs) so I think we have that pulling for us -- that drive to win and to go out and prove we can make a name for ourselves and hopefully win a series," he said. "I think the fact that nobody's really been there, that's what our advantage really is."
It's an interesting thought but history tells a much different story. So do the Pacers that have been there before.
Though four of the five starters will be playing their first postseason game when the Pacers open up against the Bulls in Chicago this weekend -- the lone veteran is Danny Granger, who played six games in his rookie season in 2006 -- the Pacers are not without old hands.
The irony is the players with the most experience in the playoffs are likely to be among those playing the least. James Posey has 65 postseason games, including two championship rings (Miami in 2006, Boston in 2008) but is only on the fringe of the rotation.
Jeff Foster has 48 games, all with the Pacers, but comes off the bench. Dahntay Jones started all 16 games of Denver's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009 but presently stands as the fifth wing in what has been a four-man rotation since Mike Dunleavy's return. T.J. Ford (16 games) will play only in an emergency and Solomon Jones (16 games) likely won't play at all.
Given his commitment to a starting lineup that includes a rookie (George), two second-year players (Darren Collison and Tyler Hansbrough) and a third-year pro (Roy Hibbert), how is interim coach Frank Vogel -- also a playoff rookie when it comes to the head coach's role -- to tap that valuable vein of experience?
"These guys talk to them all the time, they talk to them about how the intensity just raises and teams are going come after you and it's an atmosphere like they've never seen before," Vogel said. "You can't really understand it until you've experienced it but it's just great to hear it from somebody that's been there."
Posey, who shared his stories of the postseason as the team was in the midst of its battle with Charlotte and Milwaukee for the eighth seed, said the time for talk is over.
"That part is over with," said Posey. "It's a different brand of basketball. If you've been in it, you know what it is."
The intensity level doesn't just increase during games. Practices, film sessions -- even interview sessions with increasing hordes of media -- all are taken to a new and more challenging level.
"The excitement level, the physicality, the emotions that go with it, the level that it raises to, there's nothing you can really put into words," said Dahntay Jones. "You try to practice harder, mentally focus in and accept it's going be a physically battle but you really won't understand it until you get there."
Granger started three games against the Nets in 2006 but was not a primary option in a lineup that featured Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson. But he has been there, even of just for a relative glimpse, and has an awareness of what is to come he is trying to communicate to his teammates.
"I'm trying to impart to them, and so are Jeff and Dahntay, the playoffs is a whole different animal," Granger said. "A lot of intensity, the refs let a lot of stuff go, you've got to keep your composure, sold-out crowds every night. You've really got to have your focus, especially on the offensive end. The defense will shut down your offense because everybody knows your plays. We've got a book this thick (holding his fingers about 2 inches apart) of the other team's plays. You've got to execute to a T to try to score."
Truthfully, all the talk from veterans, all the regular-season games that were crucial to postseason hopes can only prepare a team so much. This is the deep end of the NBA and the only way to learn to swim is dive in and paddle like crazy.
"There's nothing you can do to simulate this," Vogel said. "That's why they call it experience."
Pacers begin preparing for Bulls
April 12, 2011
Though the players had a day off Monday, the coaches did not. They met early in the morning and spent much of the day building their game-plan for the first-round series with the top-seeded Bulls that begins either Saturday or Sunday in Chicago.
With today's practice, the on-court phase of the process begins in earnest.
"We want to build steam going into the playoffs, build momentum, look to improve," said interim coach Frank Vogel. "We've got to improve if we're going to have a chance to beat a Chicago Bulls team that's playing out of this world. We've got to continue each day, each practice, each shootaround, each game, to improve. Winning is a habit. We've got to continue to build that habit."
The Pacers (37-44) close the regular season Wednesday night in Orlando, a game that carries no weight in the standings for either team. The Magic (51-30) has a lock in the fourth seed and will have homecourt advantage for its first-round matchup with fifth-seeded Atlanta.
Indiana's focus, then, clearly is on the Bulls.
"(Coach) Tom Thibodeau has done a phenomenal job with that team, taking them from a mediocre team to a title contender," said Vogel. "We know how good they are. It is going to be a big challenge. We know our guys are capable of beating them. We are excited to be in the playoffs, but we aren’t looking to just get in and go four and out. We think we can win."
Indiana's confidence stems from a 115-108 overtime victory over Chicago on March 18 in Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pacers controlled most of the game and had a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter but Rose scored 19 points in the final 7:19 -- including three free throws to tie the game with 1.2 seconds left after a controversial foul call -- to bring the Bulls back and force the extra session.
The Pacers re-asserted themselves in overtime to pull away.
Chicago won the first three meetings, each by double digits, thanks largely to a defense that held the Pacers to fewer than 90 points and less than 40 percent shooting. But the third of those matchups, a 110-89 Bulls victory in Chicago on Jan. 29, was also the last of Jim O'Brien's tenure as head coach. He was replaced by Vogel the next day and the Pacers, 17-27 at the time, have gone 20-17 since.
"They're a good team, they've probably got the MVP in D-Rose, it's going to be tough," said Danny Granger, who has shot 37 percent against the Bulls this season. "We're going to go do the drawing board, figure out their offense and try to find out ways to attack it. It should be a battle."
The odds of course are stacked squarely against the Pacers. Only three times since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1984 has the No. 8 seed upended the No. 1 seed (Denver over Seattle in 1994, New York over Miami in 1999 and Golden State over Dallas in 2007). The Warriors hold the lone upset in a best-of-seven format, which as adopted for the first round in 2003; the previous two were best-of-five series.
"I think we can match up pretty well with them," said Paul George. "In the previous games we've played them we've struggled a little bit but we won last and I think we kind of understand how to play that team, hopefully.
"I think everybody knows what we have ahead of us, won't back down and will take the challenge."
Pacers happy but not satisfied
April 7, 2011
Having achieved a goal five years in the making by securing their first playoff berth since 2006, the Pacers certainly can, and should, be happy.
What they cannot afford to be is satisfied.
As challenging as it was for this franchise to get back into the postseason, all involved must understand it only gets harder from here.
As the eighth seed in the East, the Pacers very likely will face the Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven first-round series that begins next weekend (Saturday or Sunday). Until then, three regular season games remain -- all against playoff teams. Depending upon when the series begins, there could be five or six practices, valuable time for interim coach Frank Vogel and his staff.
The next week is not about celebration. It is about preparation.
"It was a long-time coming," said Roy Hibbert. "We worked for this. When you think about all the time during the summer when you're working out by yourself, in the gym lifting weights, and it culminates in this moment right here, we're going to make some noise.
"We're not going to settle. We're going to win these last couple of games, get some momentum going into the playoffs, make a push. We're not going to lay down for anybody."
With a 36-43 record, the Pacers can't reach .500 but with one more win they can produce their best record since their last playoff year (2006). With four wins in five games (and nine in 14), they would certainly like to continue to build momentum heading into the postseason. Then again, they also have the opportunity to heal bumps and bruises and reload their legs.
Which is more important: going after these last three games or recharging their batteries?
"I do know that I want to make sure everybody I may need stays sharp so I will make sure guys are going to play," said interim coach Frank Vogel. "I really haven’t thought that much about it, but I will make sure that guys who have nagging injuries, I’ll make sure they’re healed. But I’m not looking to sit guys just to sit guys.
"I think we need to play. We’re such a young basketball team. We play a good game then we have a slippage. So we need to continue to build steam and build momentum going into our playoff series."
The players themselves aren't completely sure which approach they'd prefer.
"You know what? That's a tough question," said Danny Granger. "For some guys that's really been playing through it, you've got to give them time off but you never want to lose momentum when you're winning games. You want to go in on a stride with a little swagger so you still want to win games going into the playoffs."
It's pretty clear this is a new, and welcome, issue for the staff and players to confront. There is no assurance either direction is the best.
Life on the next level will prove to be a voyage of discovery for this young team and its vibrant coach. And it promises to be an enjoyable ride.
Pacers simulating the playoff experience
April 6, 2011
In terms of the NBA, however, most of the playoff experience has been largely simulated, albeit successful.
With the magic number down to two, the Pacers could clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 tonight with a victory over the Washington Wizards in Conseco Fieldhouse coupled with a loss by Charlotte to Orlando.
This will be just one of several games interim coach Frank Vogel has used as simulators to give his players a taste of what awaits in the playoffs.
"I'm just enjoying the opportunity," Vogel said. "There's high stakes on every game and it sharpens your preparation, sharpens how much you think about the game when you're away from the basketball court.
"It's all about preparation. The more prepared you are, the more you study the opponent, the more you prepare your game plan, the sharper you are with all that, the better off you're going to be as a coach."
In recent weeks, the Pacers have had several games with playoff-like intensity. They beat Chicago, their likely first-round opponent, 115-108 in overtime on March 18, and recently knocked off Boston, the most playoff savvy team in the East, 107-100 on March 28.
They traveled to Charlotte on March 23 and put a serious dent in the Bobcats' postseason hopes with a 111-88 thrashing. In another matchup with a team chasing them, the Pacers knocked off Milwaukee 89-88 this past Friday in Conseco Fieldhouse, effectively eliminating the Bucks.
Though the Pacers do have 174 games of playoff experience on the roster, most rest with players not in the rotation. Danny Granger is the only starter to experience the postseason, playing six games in 2006. Backup Jeff Foster has played in 48 playoff games with the Pacers.
Vogel has opted to stick with young players including Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandon Rush, Josh McRoberts and A.J. Price down the stretch. Veterans including James Posey, who has two championship rings, and Dahntay Jones, who started all 16 games in Denver's run to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
"Since I took over, I've had the mindset we're going to build with our young guys," Vogel said. "It's a youth movement and we're rolling with them. I feel like they're talented enough that they give us the best chance to win.
"I'm not playing the young guys and sacrificing a chance to win. I believe in these young guys. I believe in the future of this franchise and staying with the young guys during this stretch and into the playoffs is what I'm going to do."
April 5, 2011
Conrad Brunner of Pacers.com takes you behind the scenes for a rare practice day at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse.