Another slow-paced mostly-ugly game. There was a lot of the same: high turnover number from the Bulls, getting to the free-throw line a ton (though they barely did at all in the first half), outstanding defense and poor Pacers offense keeping the game close. Then relying on Derrick Rose dominating the final possessions (converted the game-winning basket, naturally), and getting to that point with some more clutch Kyle Korver 3s.
There were some differences though. While Rose once again was reliable as the closer, he did not have the caliber of standout game like he did in the first two meetings. Just 23 points on 18 shots, 5 turnovers, and some poor shot selection. The Pacers kept using larger defenders on him (even using Dahntay Jones tonight), and emphasized trapping him earlier in possessions. It worked, relatively, but he still managed to get to the line a ton, and oftentimes the Bulls were able to space and pass their way out of early trouble. They still will usually lack a 2nd ballhandler though (CJ Watson only sorta counts, and they do not play together that often), so this will likely be something we'll see more and more as the playoffs roll along.
If Rose was merely less-than-spectacular, Boozer was pretty much awful. Though he did have a nice steal and converted a dunk (I swear, I saw it!) in the 4th quarter, he was mostly ineffective around the rim though the Bulls seemingly tried to make an effort to work the ball to him more. And while the Pacers frontcourt didn't do as much damage (McRoberts did have a shamefully good move on Booz), that's mostly because it turns out that Hansbrough and Hibbert just aren't very good.
So without a fully-capable Rose and with an abysmal Boozer, where was the help? It starts with Luol Deng, who had a fantastic first half on his way to 21 points. The first half production from he and Taj Gibson (who had to come in early after Boozer picked up a dumb second foul) was especially big as that was when Rose and Boozer really struggled. And I don't remember seeing Deng ever coming out of the game, though the box score has him at under 46 minutes. He was key in making the Pacers pay for trapping Rose, with 2 three-pointers. Keith Bogans one-upped him with 3-3 shooting from beyond the arc in what was by far his best game of the series. When the guy hits shots, he can play (yes, I decide).
And I thought this was the first time in a while that Joakim Noah looked like his old self again. The rebounding has been there all-along, but tonight Joakim was a real threat in the half-court set, willing to drive and launch the tornado. And while the Bulls won't get another true ballhandler to help Rose, an active Noah can fill that role admirably for a big man.
It was mentioned in the comments this week, and makes more sense to me after tonight: Getting Noah back to full strength, rest for Ronnie Brewer (hasn't looked the same with that bum hand), and keeping Derrick Rose away from more hard fouls is of paramount importance. This hasn't been the Bulls looking their best, but that's the Pacers goal: to rough up (and in Jeff Foster's case, more than just rough, pretty much blatantly flagrant) and try and compensate for their lack of talent. The Bulls don't have to play that game, they just have to win the game and never see these guys again. One more.