Bulls' comeback falls short, Pacers get Game 4

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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.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."