Confident, Not Dejected, Pacers Vow They Won't Go Away
April 17, 2011
( Getty Images)
Just as they were dismissed by the national media entering the season, so shall the Pacers be dismissed now, even after they very nearly shocked the NBA Saturday with their remarkable performance in Game 1.
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."