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Surprising Defense Gives Pacers A Fighting Chance

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

April 24, 2011

Jessica Hoffman/Pacers

Of all the developments in this playoff series with the Bulls, perhaps none is more surprising than this:

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.