By Conrad Brunner, Pacers.com
And yet for the third game in a row, they could not find the formula for holding a fourth-quarter lead and, as a result, their season's end is just one loss away.
Rose's only basket of the second half, a layup against three defenders with 17.8 seconds left, proved to be the difference-maker as the Bulls once again rallied past the Pacers, 88-84, in to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series Thursday before a sellout crowd of 18,165 in Conseco Fieldhouse.
"We competed at a high level and deserved to win," said Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel. "I know close doesn’t count but our guys fought. … We just have to regroup and continue to make it a series."
The Pacers will try to salvage a home split when the teams meet for Game 4 Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Conseco Fieldhouse.
“We’re really frustrated right now. I know I’m frustrated," said Tyler Hansbrough. "We now have to work to stay in this series and win our game here at home."
Rose scored 23 but shot just 4-of-18 from the field, 1-of-9 in the second half, scoring 13 of his points from the free-throw line. He had plenty of help from Luol Deng, who scored 21, and Kyle Korver, who scored 10 of his 12 in the fourth quarter.
Danny Granger led Indiana with 21 points but missed a potential game-winning 3-point attempted in the closing seconds. Dahntay Jones scored 11 off the bench and Tyler Hansbrough added 10.
The game marked the third in a row in which the Pacers couldn't protect a fourth-quarter lead.
"Obviously, we've been ahead in the fourth quarter of all of theses games and they've closed them out better than we have," said Jeff Foster. "It's frustrating and the loss hurts but when you're that close every night it makes things even harder.
"I guess there are some positives out of it, too. We've shown some growth in three-and-a-half quarters in every single one of these games and for whatever reason, their execution or our lack of execution, we just haven't been able to close any of them out and they're showing down the stretch why they're the one seed."
Jones scored consecutive baskets early in the fourth quarter, including a wild one-hander in the lane, to give the Pacers a 70-65 lead but the Bulls quickly countered with a 10-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Korver to take a 75-70 lead.
The visitors remained in front until the Pacers surged down the stretch. George pulled his own miss and was fouled, making both to cut it to 84-82. Granger than drained a pullup jumper to tie it with 1:42 remaining.
After Deng missed a 3-pointer, the Pacers got two shots at the lead but missed both, a Granger jumper and a Darren Collison floater with 40.9 seconds remaining.
Rose then drove past Jones and floated a layup over the fully extended arm of 7-2 Roy Hibbert for what turned out to be the game-winner
"He's a great player," said Paul George, Rose's primary defender. "When it came down to it, they needed a basket, that's when he stepped up and he made an in credible shot. Three guys contested it but somehow it went in."
The Pacers couldn't get a good look on their most important possession as Granger was left with a long 3-point attempt that wasn't close with 2.9 seconds left. Ronnie Brewer closed it out at the free throw line.
"We had three or four different options. They took them away from us," said Granger. "This is part of lack of ball movement and inexperience. We’re a young team. This is a little disappointing because we need to win at least one of these."
The game was tight throughout with neither team leading by more than six.
Things got chippy midway through the third period when Rose reacted angrily after being fouled on a drive, turning and going chest-to-chest with Foster, who did not respond. Several Bulls players intervened on Rose's behalf but no technical fouls were called.
Fast breaks: This was the Bulls' first ever playoff win in Indiana. … Including the last two games of the regular season, the Pacers have now dropped five in a row, while the Bulls have won 12 straight. … Outrebounded 106-67 in the first two games of this series, the Pacers matched the Bulls on the boards, 42-42, led by Paul George's career-best 12 rebounds. … On 10 attempts, the Pacers tied their regular season-low with just one 3-pointer. … Outscored 84-64 in the paint in the first two games, the Pacers outscored the Bulls, 38-16, in the paint. That is the fewest points scored in the paint against the Pacers in 2010-11. … The two-time national runner-up Butler Bulldogs took the court and received a standing ovation between the first and second quarters. … The franchise honored head trainer Josh Corbeil and assistant Carl Eaton as Indiana Heroes during a break in the game. The two helped save Bobby "Slick" Leonard after he suffered a severe heart attack on the team bus after a March 13 victory in Madison Square Garden … Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, Clippers guard and Indianapolis native Eric Gordon, former Pacers forward Derrick McKey and Colts punter Pat McAfee were in the crowd.