Indy's Physicality Went Too Far in Game 3, Still Wasn't Good Enough to Beat the Bulls

Indy's Physicality Went Too Far in Game 3, Still Wasn't Good Enough to Beat the Bulls

The Bulls took a 3-0 series lead with an ugly 88-84 win with great defense, despite terrible offense and being out-hustled on the loose balls.

The Bulls won 88-84 in Indy to take a 3-0 series lead in the seven-game series, but the Pacers made sure the Bulls felt the bumps in the morning.

Frank Vogel put together a five-man unit practice called the "red team" before the series began. Only one of those five players, the 6-foot-6 Dahntay Jones, played in order to keep length on Derrick Rose when the 6-foot-7 rookie, Paul George, was off the floor. Jones kept his body on Rose, but it was the ultra-physicality of Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts, and Jeff Foster who did all but throw clinched fists at the Bulls dribble penetration, while rarely going for the actual ball.

"They bumped him, smacked him and -- when necessary -- knocked him down," Nick Friedell wrote (ESPNChicago.com).

It worked to further stifle an already struggling Bulls offense and contained Rose to a 4-for-18 shooting night -- 1-for-9 in the second half -- but still scored a game-high 23 points by shooting 13-for-15 at the FT line. Stifling the penetration game held the Bulls to an awful 28-for-72 (.389 FG%) from the floor, but they nailed 9-of-20 3-pointers for a .451 eFG% and 23-of-27 FTs for a .525 TS% on the night for a 102.4 offensive rating. All bad numbers, but all better than what Indy could muster up against the Bulls defense -- embarrassing rates like a .379 FG%, .385 eFG%, and .442 TS%.
The first questionable play was Foster clearly looking for an "incidental" clothesline and Hansbrough putting his forearm to Rose's face on a dribble drive:

Rose protected his body, but the same couldn't be said for Luol Deng (21 points on 8-for-19, 3-for-6 on 3s, six rebounds, six assists in 45:11) who took a shot to the head from Foster, coming down from the air after jumping for no reason. As for Rose's game-winning drive to the hole, sure it "could've been an And-One," as Carlos Boozer noted, but Roy Hibbert wasn't headhunting; Hibbert's just stupid, was out of position, and mindlessly throwing his body through the lane to attempt the block:

The first hit on Rose could be seen as a hard foul; it could've been rung up as a flagrant. The second on Deng is a reasonable Flagrant 2 and I'd hope the league reviews the play and applies some justice. No one in their right mind is going to saying it's wrong to be physical with Rose and I'm not being a homer. But the reason for the rules isn't to add the strategic element of getting to the line. The primary purpose is player safety, then fairness, and what teams do with those rules become strategic. Vogel clearly gave his boys free reign to break rules pertaining to player safety and the NBA should make it clear that that carries consequences.
A lot of playoff basketball comes down to FTs because the physicality is applied on more possessions. That physicality is cool. The Bulls were one of the most physical teams this season and got away with a lot of hacking below the neck and questionable, but crafty, footwork -- as any strong defense does. But again, when players are putting players' health to such risk, the league ought to act.
  • Deng carried the team early to improve on first half woes in the Games 1 and 2. He had a rough second half and his footwork was off for a few minutes after the headshot. But Lu was the Bulls offense in the first half and, other than the post-headshot lapses, effectively removed Danny Granger (21 points on 10-for-21, 1-for-5 on 3s, 0-for-0 on FTs) from the game. Granger had eight points on 4-for-8 shooting after Deng's headshot, including a baseline jumper with Deng's hand in his face, but Indy only scored 63 points in the first three quarters with Granger only having 13 points on 6-for-13.

    "[Deng] was clearly pained and fatigued from playing each and every minute of the first three quarters of the game," Kelly Dwyer wrote in his recap (Ball Don't Lie). "Though Deng's effort never let up, he was constantly grabbing at his shorts and hips throughout the second half and collapsing into the Bulls bench at every timeout."

    Deng played the entire first three quarters of the game, scoring 14 first half points, going 6-for-his-first-8 when the Bulls offense was anemic. When K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune asked of Deng's performance, Tom Thibodeau immediately smiled with pride in the player he's called "the glue of our team" all season.

  • "We have five guys who can get something done late," Tom Thibodeau said after the game of Rose's cluchiness, Deng and Kyle Korver's shooting, Carlos Boozer's inside game, and Noah's passing ability.
  • Thibs was careful to not criticize the officiating in the post-game press conference because he'll be fined tens of thousands for doing so, but there was code that players shouldn't be scapegoated for following a coach's orders. He gave the 'there are hard fouls in the playoffs' meme, but added: "In my eyes, that's what they've been doing all series; they're fouling hard," he said. "That part of the game. When it crosses over the line, the officials'll make the call."

    He added that he has a lot of "respect for Foster" -- his toughness and veteran-iness. What a great preface to his post-game self-defense of a little on-court street justice courtesy of a Kurt Thomas in Game 4.

  • "The bigger the shot, the better Kyle is," Thibs said of his confidence to depend on Korver (10 points on 4-for-4, two 3s in the fourth quarter) late in games.

    "Indiana led 70-65 with 9:29 left but Kyle Korver hit a 3-pointer and a jumper and Rose made four free throws in a 10-0 run that gave the Bulls a 75-70 lead with 7:04 left," Conrad Brunner reported (NBA.com). "They would not relinquish that lead, though Indiana managed to tie it at 84-all on Granger's pullup jumper with 1:42 left."

  • Boozer was half-terrible, but Thibs likes his hustle. Booz had only four points on 2-for-10, playing weak, but crashed the boards hard for 11 rebounds and set great screens for Korver throughout the entire fourth quarter.
  • The physicality made the game overly, but completely understandably, emotional for Rose. He was visibly choked up and shedding tears after the game because of what Indy put his body through. He was clearly frustrated that certain shots weren't falling and with himself for letting that pain hinder his aggressiveness and foster hesitation that led to his five turnovers and broken possessions.

    In the post-game, his humility is to discuss how his emotions chipped away at his production is to be admired more than his heart to get that killer instinct back in his final touch that led to the game-winning layup through all five Pacers on the floor. A game-winning layup that was Rose's only basket within 19 feet all night (John Krolik, ProBasketballTalk).

    "It was tough the whole night -- the way they were playing me," he said in the post-game. "I missed shots I usually hit."

    When asked of how the physicality got to him, he admitted: "It was little irritating.... We knew it was gonna' be a crazy game."

    When asked if he was "frustrated" by Foster, he admitted that, but added of Foster: "That's his job. If you don't stand up to it, no one will."

    On being up 3-0 with the shot to sweep the Pacers on Saturday, he said: "Just keep being aggressive. That's our whole thing."

    On putting the longer George and Jones out to defend him, Rose said with a smile: "They're just making me better as a player. As a young player, I see almost every coverage. Tonight was a little bit different where they changed up guys on me, but if anything, they made it tough.... It's supposed to be an easy game with two people on the ball."

  • Noah had a great game that was overshadowed by the other sub-texts. You're rarely going to see Noah's game seem quiet, but his 11 points on 3-for-6 and 5-for-6 on FTs, 10 rebounds, and four blocks were about as crucial as anything that played out in this game. Hibbert (six points on 3-for-12, seven rebounds) and Hansbrough (10 points on 3-for-12, five rebounds) were generally non-productive.
  • The rebounding wasn't dominant. Both teams had 42 boards and the Bulls' 10 offensive boards at a 27% rate should be higher as the Pacers' 15 offensive boards at a 31.9% rate is completely inexcusable. There were stretches where Indy had third, fourth, and even a fifth chance. That's getting out-hustled.
  • The Bench Mob was largely benched. Taj Gibson (six points on 3-for-6, five rebounds, two blocks in 20:34) had an awesome game with Korver's clutchiness, but Ronnie Brewer led other bench players in playing time with 10:34.
  • George is gonna be something special. He led the Pacers with 12 rebounds and two blocks. His length, aggressiveness, and obvious work ethic to study film has already made the rookie a shutdown defender. He'll only get better and with that game and frame will have work in the NBA for at least a decade, no matter what his offense looks like.

    Holly MacKenzie gave him props after the game, writing (The Basketball Jones; h/t: Tim Donahue): "While Rose has had the last laugh in all three meetings, it's been fun to watch George step up to the challenge of guarding Rose with the same intensity that he puts into sprinting out on the fast break to receive an outlet pass and energize the crowd with a dunk. George has been fearless in these playoffs, and for all of those who doubted his selection with the 10th pick in the draft, he's not looking so bad out there, is he?"

  • The Bulls' 15 turnovers were bad, but only three came in the final 27 minutes of the game (h/t: Dwyer). I guess that's something.
Saturday's game at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis is a 1:30 p.m. game, so remember to be ready to watch the Bulls attempt the sweep early.
The winner of the Bulls-Pacers series will play the winner of the Magic-Hawks series, which is tied at 1-1 after two games. Game 3 of that series will be played Friday night in Atlanta at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN2.
Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.

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  • Come on! Are people in Chicago THAT biased? I mean sure, it was a physical game but it wasn't dirty. Could a few technicals or flagrants have been called? Sure. But I liked the way it went down. I mean Indiana is clearly a worse team. The only way they can make up for that lack of talent is with physical play. And it worked! What were Rose's numbers? 4-something from the field with 23 points? That's pretty bad for the MVP. So it works. I liked the fact that refs didn't call technicals or flagrants. It kept the game fluid. There's nothing worse than a chippy game.

    And in the end, the Bulls won. That just goes to show you that physical play with a lack of talent will get you only so far. That's the answer: WIN. Don't retaliate, don't get called for cheap fouls. Win. Plain and simple.

    ESPN.com had a poll earlier that asked if people thought the game was physical or dirty. An overwhelming majority said it was physical, myself included. I'm sorry to say, but I think people in Chicago are being really biased.

  • In reply to drewkent23:

    1.) "The people of Chicago" didn't write this; I did.

    2.) People carry biases. Geography doesn't dictate a degree of bias.

    3.) I'm not sure you understand what "bias" means. I'm applying an objective interpretation of the actual NBA rules: http://www.nba.com/features/misunderstoodrules_051128.html

    You, on the other hand, are citing a non-scientific opinion poll?

    4.) A flagrant is a flagrant. They happen here and there, especially when playing aggressive and there are consequences written in the rules of the game. When they happen twice within a context, it's an extension of that aggressiveness. Three or more times is a pattern; it's deliberate recklessness for the rules. That's dirty, by definition.

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