If the NBA Playoffs were like the NHL Playoffs, and games were only three periods, the Indiana Pacers might be the best team in the league. That fourth and final quarter cost them dearly once again in Game 3 tonight.
The Bulls barely won the first game, barely held on in the second game, and of course, won Game 3 in the final seconds on Derrick Rose's lay up with 17 seconds to go. The Pacers come short once again, falling 88-84 in front of a sold out Conseco Fieldhouse crowd.
Luol Deng and Danny Granger each scored 21 points, and Derrick Rose still wound up with 23 points, despite shooting 4 of 18 from the field. Rose went to the free throw line 15 times, while Granger didn't attempt a single free throw.
Darren Collison was able to start and play for Indiana, after leaving Game 2 with a sprained ankle. The Bulls though, seemed to have the edge early thanks in part to some hot shooting by Luol Deng. He had 14 points at the half. The Bulls had a 21-17 edge at the end of the first quarter.
The Pacers were able to stay in the game somehow, despite being out rebounded by a considerable margin in the first half. Indiana's bench came to the rescue in the second quarter, providing the spark the team needed. The defense was intense, forcing many turnovers that led to fast breaks. By halftime, the game was tied at 42.
The third quarter featured more back and forth play for both teams. Both teams were making runs, trading the lead multiple times. Neither team led by more than six points in this game.
The Pacers had a couple of lapses in the third quarter, with Danny Granger missing two fast break lay ups. Darren Collison was leaving Keith Bogans wide open on multiple occasions, where he buried three shots from beyond the arc. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Pacers were trailing by just one point.
The Pacers started the fourth period well, scoring the first six points, taking a five point lead. They began to self destruct after that though, as Chicago responded with a 10-0 run. Darren Collison left Kyle Korver open for another three pointer, which of course he hit. The teams continued to trade baskets.
With less than a minute to go in the game, the game was tied, and the Pacers had the ball after Paul George's big offensive rebound. It was the 12th rebound of the game for the impressive rookie. Collison missed a jumper though, and the Bulls took possession.
With 17 seconds left, Derrick Rose got the ball, and of course went right to the rim. He was able to lay it in, giving them a two point lead. Indiana called a time out and set up their next play. Chicago played great defense though, forcing Granger into a tough shot.
Granger missed a long jumper with 3 seconds left, Chicago grabbed the rebound, and two free throws iced it. Chicago wins another game by the skin of their teeth.
With tonight's loss, the Pacers now find themselves one game from being swept. Although it doesn't feel like it, it would be the first-round sweep that most everyone was predicting before the series began. After playing so well in the first two games, they came back with the same game plan and executed it to near perfection, falling just short in the closing minutes yet again.
Now down 0-3 in this series, Indiana is faced with a big decision; do they lay down and let the inevitable happen, or do they keep fighting and try to send the series back to Chicago?
With the effort they have shown, and the energy that interim head coach Frank Vogel has instilled within them, I expect they will come out ready to go on Saturday afternoon, scratching and clawing to win Game 4.