Bulls' comeback falls short, Pacers get Game 4

453028.jpg

Bulls' comeback falls short, Pacers get Game 4

Saturday, April 23, 2011
Posted: 4:30 p.m. Updated: 7:33 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

INDIANAPOLISApologies to Pacers interim head coach Frank Vogel and the Bulls as a whole. When both parties informed reporters the first-round series between the Central Division rivals wouldnt be a cakewalk for the leagues best regular-season team, many scoffed, even as Indiana took Chicago to the wire in the first three games.

But the point finally hit home Saturday afternoon, when the Pacers topped the top-seeded Bulls, 89-84, Saturday afternoon at Conseco Fieldhouse, extending the series to five games, despite a furious Chicago rally that ultimately fell short. With the added bonus of Derrick Rose being hampered by a sprained left ankle, Indiana took an early double-digit advantage and while the visitors nearly made a miraculous comeback, the home team survived the late onslaught to make it a 3-1 series.

WATCH: Rose discusses his sprained ankle

Both teams looked to get their primary low-post optionsChicagos Carlos Boozer (15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots) and Indianas Roy Hibbert (16 points, 10 rebounds, three blocksuntracked in the early going and while each big man had mixed results, the contest was as intense and physical from the outset as one would expect of a potential series-clinching affair. The young Pacers werent cowed by the importance of being in an elimination game, however, and took control of the contest with a 7-0 run.

WATCH: Deng says they're not going to panic

We cant keep doing that. They jumped out on us early, Luol Deng (16 points) explained. Weve got to move the ball better, especially in the first half. In the second half, we moved it betterguys were movingbut in the first half, weve got to do a better job just locking in.

Said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls less-than-urgent start: I didnt like it. I thought that they got off to a quick start, we chased them and were playing from behind, and you cant do that.

More important than even the score for the Bulls was a left-ankle sprain suffered by Rose (16 points on 6-for-22 shooting from the floor, 1-for-9 from three-point range and 2-for-4 from the foul line; 10 assists, four steals) after hitting one of his typically acrobatic layups in traffic with just over a minute left in the first quarter, leaving the many Windy City faithful in attendance briefly aghast in horror. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Pacers held a 23-19 lead.

Rose returned to the game early in the second quarter and Indiana immediately employed tough-minded veteran defender Dahntay Jones on himas well as continuing to trapping the point guard near halfcourt with its similarly physical big menwhich was first countered by Rose playing off the ball, then by the Bulls going back to Boozer.
WATCH: Thibodeau on the loss

Rose quickly proved that not did Indianas physical defense not faze him, but his ankle was fine, as he cut backdoor, took a bounce pass from Boozer and exploded for a powerful, two-handed baseline flush, screaming, What! at the PacerJosh McRobertsunderneath the basket when he landed, something out of the ordinary for the mild-mannered star.

Chicago used its active defense to force Pacers turnovers and get its transition game in gear, creeping ever closer to their hosts, but the home team didnt let up, going on a 15-1 run to put the visitors in a double-digit hole. Indianas energy simply overwhelmed the Bulls, who went into the break facing a 49-33 deficit, after a Danny Granger (24 points, 10 rebounds) putback just prior to the halftime buzzer.

Joakim Noah (21 points, 14 rebounds) asserted himself as a rebounder, defender and even scorer early in the third period, playing with his trademark energy, but with Grangers scoring and Hibberts low-post presence, the Bulls could only make up minimal ground.

WATCH: Korver says the Bulls have a lot to learn

Jo played great tonight. It was definitely his best game of the series. Jos been through a lot this year, with injuries and getting sick and rolled ankles, said Kyle Korver. Its kind of taken him a while to find his rhythm, but I thought he played great tonight.

Thibodeau was pleased with Noahs play, but the perfectionist also offered some perspective.

Unfortunately, he picked up the fouls. He played with a lot of energy, was active, scoring the ball, keeping balls alive, hustling. The fouls hurt him a little bit, hurt us. Weve got to stay disciplined. The thing about these games, youve got to maintain discipline throughout the course of the game.

Boozer looked to build on his first-half outing (compared to Thursdays Game 3, at least), but after a strong finish over Hibbert, he felt the need to let the Pacers center know about it, prompting a technical foul.

Kurt Thomas replaced a winded Noah and maintained productivity in the pivot with his always-tough defense and mid-range shooting, aiding Chicago in gradually chipping away at the Pacers lead. Through three quarters, however, Indiana still held a 67-56 advantage.

We didnt play very good basketball in the first three quarters and we were a little flat. We had a lot of turnovers. We werent getting the ball up the floor very quickly and a lot of that has to do with them, said Korver. They were really trapping Derrick hard and it was really giving us problems. Weve got to do a better job of giving him outlets and then once we get there, really attacking and swinging the ball. When youve got two guys on the ball, it should be easy offense.

WATCH: Boozer on coming out better

The final stanza didnt start in ideal fashion for the Bulls, as the Pacers quickly increased their lead before Korver decided to enhance his reputationdespite a three-pointer to beat the shot clock getting waved off after an official reviewas the bane of the Pacers in the fourth quarter.

But the sharpshooter alone wasnt enough, as the Pacers, led by Granger, timely scoring from role players and an improved effort on the boards, kept a comfortable, double-digit distance between themselves and their guests.

Adding to the impending sense of doom was Noah, Chicagos most effective player on the afternoon, picking up his fifth foul with just over five minutes remaining, which also put the Bulls in the penalty. Unforced errors and errant shots began to take a toll on the determined visitors, who continued to play stout defenseforcing multiple shot-clock violationsbut couldnt muster up enough offense, despite Deng coming alive in the second half, to get back into the contest.

Down the stretch, the Pacers youth again showedas it has all series down the stretchas reckless turnovers, poor defense and silly fouls enabled the Bulls to make it a single-digit game with less than two minutes to play. After a frantic sequence ended with a Boozer layup with 46.5 seconds left made it an 84-79 affair, the home team struggled to inbound the ball and Rose got a steal and breakaway dunk to make it a one-possession contest with 38.9 seconds on the clock.

Reserve swingman Mike Dunleavy was fouled on the ensuing possession and split a pair of free throws and on the subsequent Bulls trip, Noah finished a driving layup and was fouled. The charismatic center completed the traditional three-point play to make it 85-84 with 15.3 seconds to go in the barn-burner, sending the arena into a confusedthe Chicago contingent was as just as noisy as the local fansstate of frenzy.

Granger was next in the classic, end-game free-throw parade, and the Pacers go-to scorer sunk both of his attempts, prompting a Bulls timeout. With 14.1 seconds left, the ball was inbounded to Noah and when he couldnt initially get the ball to Rose, a cutting Deng ended up with it and passed it to Boozer, who was short on a corner triple

Obviously I wasnt the first option, but we tried to run the play for our three-point shooters that were out there, said Boozer. Our first, second, third option wasnt open. I just happened to be the one open in the corner. I tried to give it a chance, but it was a little short.

Chicago fouled Granger again and after knocking down a pair of foul shots, Indiana got its first postseason victory in five years.

WATCH: Noah says the playoffs come through Chi-Town

Tough loss. We didnt play well in the first half again, so we definitely have to do a better job with that. Were a team that definitely deals with adversity pretty well. We have high character and we want to win, but were excited because the playoffs have got to go through Chi-Town and were excited about that, said Noah. Every game is the toughest. The next game is always the toughest. This is not easy. This is the NBA playoffs. Everybodys competing hard, everybody wants to win. You see what these games come down to. Its nothing. If we played the way we play in that fourth quarter for 48 minutes, we win that ballgame.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

bulls.jpg

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Celtics trade for Jimmy Butler?

On the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Kevin Anderson, Vincent Goodwill and Kendall Gill welcome in SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell to discuss the Celtics' motivation to trade for Jimmy Butler. 

The guys also break down whether the league is undervaluing the Bulls All-Star. 

Later, they debate the contant Lebron James vs. Michael Jordan comparison and ask if it's fair after the King's poor showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. O'Donnell also analyzes the NBA Draft. He believes Terrance Ferguson is the right pick for GarPax. 

Finally, a behind the scenes look at Goodwill vs. Kendall on the court, and Kendall on the right way to parent a young athlete. 

Listen to the Bulls Talk Podcast below. 

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

NBA Buzz: Financial and competitive realities could lead to Jimmy Butler trade for Bulls

Watching LeBron James tear through the Eastern Conference playoffs the way Michael Jordan used to do in his prime, it's become increasingly apparent other teams in the East will be chasing James and the Cavaliers for the next 3-5 years.

With that in mind, you have to wonder what kind of conversations are going on inside the walls of the Advocate Center as the Bulls' front office prepares for the June 22nd draft and the start of free agency on July 1st. 

Jimmy Butler earned third-team All-NBA honors on Thursday, putting him in position to earn the Designated Veteran Player Extension with another All-NBA selection in either 2018 or 2019. Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that could mean a contract starting at $42 million in 2019-20 with a total five-year value of over $246 million.

Are the Bulls prepared to pay that kind of money to a player who has logged big minutes over his career and will turn 30 just before the 2019-20 season?

If not, the best time to deal Butler would be right now. Butler is coming off the best season of his NBA career, including a starting spot for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star game. Plus, he still has two more guaranteed years on his contract at far below market value for one of the top 15 players in the league.

Tuesday's draft lottery pretty much eliminated Boston from a potential Butler trade. Celtics' GM Danny Ainge loves Washington point guard Markelle Fultz and is locked in to drafting him with the number one pick. Boston's future couldn't look brighter after finishing with the best regular season record in the East, advancing to the Conference Finals, and winning the lottery.

The Celtics will add Fultz and still have enough cap room to offer a max deal to free agent swingman Gordon Hayward, who played collegiately for Boston coach Brad Stevens at Butler. How does a starting line-up of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Hayward, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley sound, with a second unit of Fultz, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk? It might not be good enough to take down the Cavs or Warriors, but should position the Celtics for a long run as a serious contender.

So, if the Celtics are out, where would the Bulls look for a possible Butler deal? Phoenix probably holds the best combination of assets, starting with the No. 4 overall pick. If point guards Fultz, Lonzo Ball and De'Aaron Fox go 1-2-3, the Bulls could grab Kansas forward Josh Jackson, an Andrew Wiggins-clone who could wind up being the best player in this draft.

The Suns also have a pair of intriguing young power forwards in Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender, both top 10 picks a year ago. Plus, Phoenix could include 23-year-old small forward T.J. Warren and Chicago native Tyler Ulis in the package going back to the Bulls.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough is reportedly under pressure to show significant improvement next season after winning just 47 games combined over the last two years. Adding another young player to the roster isn't the best way to improve the team immediately, so don't be surprised if the Suns make a pitch to acquire Butler in the days leading up to the draft.

Similar story in Philadelphia, where the Sixers own the third overall pick next month. Under former GM Sam Hinkie, the "trust the process" approach led to a roster purge and the acquisition of lottery picks. Right now, the Sixers are overloaded with young players like Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Justin Anderson and Nik Stauskas.

Would current GM Bryan Colangelo be willing to trade the pick, along with Okafor and Anderson in a package for Butler? The Bulls could choose between Jackson and Kentucky's lightning-quick point guard Fox with the draft pick they’d acquire, potentially adding three young starters to a new-look line-up. 

Given all the trade rumors surrounding Butler in the past, you can expect a number of teams will be calling the Bulls leading up to the draft, including Tom Thibodeau's Timberwolves, coming off a disappointing season with assets to offer like Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick. 

Ultimately, it comes down to which direction the Bulls' front office wants to go. Try to build a contender around Butler, or use him as the trade asset to start a full re-build. We should get our answer in the days leading up to the draft.

Around the Association

Thursday's All-NBA announcement could lead to a pair of All-Star forwards changing teams this summer. We already mentioned Hayward's situation in Utah. Without the designated veteran player extension, he might be seriously tempted to join his old college coach in Boston. 

Hayward could sign a one year contract with a player option for a second season in Utah with hopes of earning the DVPE next summer, but if Hayward hits the open market, it's clear he'll be the number one target for the Celtics this off-season. 

Paul George also could be in play after failing to make one of the three All-NBA teams. The Pacers were hoping to sign their All-Star forward to a max five-year extension at over $200 million, but George isn't eligible now. George still could sign an extension with Indiana, but not at the dollars he would have received had he made All-NBA. 

Rumors of George's desire to join his home-state Lakers in free agency after the 2017-18 season continue to grow, especially with Magic Johnson likely to add dynamic point guard Lonzo Ball in next month's draft. The Pacers might be forced to trade George to get some assets now, rather than let him walk away for nothing in free agency next summer.

Back to the Bulls, who will bring in dozens of prospects to Chicago to work out at the Advocate Center before the draft. Unless they make a major trade to move up, the front office almost has to go "best player available" with their picks at Nos. 16 and 38. Look for them to focus on an athletic wing in the first round with Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, Indiana's OG Anunoby, Duke's Harry Giles and Australian pro Terrance Ferguson among the likely options. 

But if the team decides to part company with restricted free agent Niko Mirotic, that could open the door for the Bulls to select a power forward like Cal's Ivan Rabb, Wake Forest's John Collins, Utah's Kyle Kuzma or UCLA's T.J. Leaf. They could even draft an athletic young center like Jarrett Allen of Texas, Creighton's Justin Patton or UCLA's Ike Anigbogu.

In Round 2, the Bulls might look to add another young point guard to the mix like Oklahoma State's Jawun Evans, Iowa State's Monte Morris, Villanova's Josh Hart, Gonzaga's Nigel Williams Goss or Big 12 Player of the Year Frank Mason from Kansas.

Quotes of the Week

The Celtics might have edged Cleveland out for the top seed in the East during the regular season, but after watching Game 1 Wednesday night, it's clear Brad Stevens’ team will be lucky to get a win in the series.

This from Stevens about the NBA's version of Benjamin Button, LeBron James. "It's hard to believe, but he's better than when I got into the league. A lot better."

Still, Celtics' star Isaiah Thomas isn't about to concede the series just yet, saying, "We're not afraid of Cleveland. They're not the Monstars."  

Well, Thomas might be right about the rest of the Cavs. But if you remember the movie "Space Jam", I'm pretty sure James would be a good fit in that Monstars line-up. And the Celtics don't have Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny or Bill Murray!