Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
INDIANAPOLIS — I never heard a coach sound more down than Frank Vogel after his Indiana Pacers played their hearts out Thursday night only to lose 88-84 to the Bulls at Conseco Fieldhouse.
The quiet way in which Vogel said, “Once again, I’m proud of our effort,” as he looked nonplussed at the game’s stat sheet, gave me the feeling that he either had just finished crying or was about to.
Can’t blame him. Coaches have to appreciate it when their underdog
teams consistently play above expectation and grit out close losses as the Pacers have done.
Did the Bulls really finish with an NBA-best 62-20 record and the Pacers squeak into the playoffs at 37-45? Every other team that entered the playoffs had at least nine more wins.
I agree with Vogel when he said his team deserved to win. The Bulls won it in the fourth quarter each game to grab a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Game 4 is today.
The Bulls can’t be proud of the way they played, allowing close finishes that made the outcomes something close to a crapshoot. They won because they possess a house-money player in Derrick Rose.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda
“We very easily could have won every game,’’ Pacers forward Danny Granger said. “Just look at the scores. We lacked one or two plays that would have won it for us.”
In other words, they did not have a finisher like Rose. Talented, gutsy players like Rose can cover a multitude of faults, including his own. Rose is simply too good to let even his poor performances cause the Bulls to lose.
The Pacers have a super shooter in Granger and great role players in center Roy Hibbert, forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Foster, point guard Darren Collison and shooting guard Paul George. But they lack a superstar who can create his own shot and make it.
Of late, the Bulls have been begging an opponent to beat them. While the Bulls have beaten the Pacers by an average of five points, the Miami Heat, which had the second-best record in the East, has been winning by an average of 12 points against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Bulls haven’t had a blowout win since they skunked the host Atlanta Hawks 114-81 a month ago. Their formula has worked so far. They keep the score close and give the ball to Rose to close the show with a bang. They won their last nine games of the regular season that way.
Rose can handle the pressure
After the first two wins, I asked Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau if he was concerned about the Bulls eventually asking Rose to do too much too late too often.
“No,” Thibodeau said. “He can handle it.”
“I’m cool,” he said. “I just want to play and do my best to win as many games as possible.”
That all sounds good and looks good right now. But Rose is not perfect, and he is no superman. He’s still human. He has his limits. What helps the Bulls is that every playoff series is best-of-seven. That means that good teams can have a couple of stinkers and still win the series.
To their credit, the Pacers have had no stinkers. They have acquitted themselves valiantly and have only close, proud losses to show for it.
Now, Pacers fans are on death watch because no NBA team has survived a 3-0 deficit. And I wouldn’t have blamed Vogel or any of his players for crying about their state of affairs. In fact, I’d not only buy the Kleenex, I’d probably pitch in and cry with them.
Their tears would be more
understandable than those shed by the Heat after the Bulls completed their season sweep of the Heat.
It’s really a crying shame what has happened to the Pacers. But this series isn’t over. Maybe, in today’s Game 4, a close game will favor them in the end.