INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers have gone toe-to-hoof with the Bulls in their first-round playoff series, holding fourth-quarter leads in all three games and never trailing by more than seven points.
And yet they don't have a single win to show for their efforts. Thursday's 88-84 loss in Conseco Fieldhouse dropped the Pacers to a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series. No NBA team has ever climbed out of such a hole to win a playoff series, and the Pacers can't become the first unless they manage to pass a crash course at finishing school before Saturday's game here.
The Pacers led 70-65 in the final period Thursday, only to have Chicago run off 10 consecutive points. The Pacers managed a tie at 84 with 1:42 left, but then offered a summary of their fatal flaw. They had two possessions to take the lead but Danny Granger and Darren Collison each missed jumpers, neither of which were quality shots. Derrick Rose then beat them for a left-handed layup with 17.8 seconds left, and Granger followed with a forced three-pointer that had little chance.
Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel has complimented his team's effort after each loss, and can't help but wonder what could be.
"It should be 2-1," he said. "Or maybe 2-1, us. Maybe 3-0, us. It's disappointing."
The Pacers' greatest offensive issue has been lack of ball movement. They had just 11 assists on Thursday, four in the second half. They give full credit to the Bulls, but believe they should be executing better, particularly in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers have been outscored by 16 combined points in the final periods of this series. They got a warning shot of what was to come in the final regular season game against the Bulls, when they were outscored 29-13 in the fourth quarter and had to go overtime to pull out a win.
"Kind of indicative of a young, inexperienced team," said Granger, who has led his team in scoring in all three games of this series, but has been ineffective in the most crucial moments. "When the game's on the line, we don't execute when we should. We took some bad shots and we missed some guys that were open when we did take the lead."
Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who scored just six points on 3-of-12 shooting and was limited to 22 minutes by foul trouble, was the most frustrated Pacer. Although nine of his 12 shots were within 10 feet, he complained afterward of his role in the offense.
"I'm not getting it where I want it," Hibbert said. "I don't want to shoot jump shots. I want to get it in the paint."
Hibbert, normally the team's most engaging interview, then turned sarcastic.
"It's on me," he said. "I don't have anything for you today," he added, cutting off the conversation.
Granger seemed to have a different opinion, believing the Pacers should have taken more three-point shots. They stayed in the first two games from the arc, but hit just 1-of-10 Thursday as the Bulls stepped up their perimeter defense.
"Sometimes as a team we go through those lapses where we're so focused on posting up and isolating players and we don't mix in a good healthy amount of threes," said Granger, who hit 1-of-5 three-pointers in the game. "And when we do they're not good shots. I don't think we had that many good looks. We'd like to get a better mix of postups and threes and we just didn't tonight."