INDIANAPOLIS -- Give the Indiana Pacers some credit for exploring every option to avoid getting swept by Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
For starters, they tried making Thursday's Game 3 more physical than Purdue's spring football game. They made Rose angry with one particularly hard foul and delivered 2 or 3 more that might have been flagrants with a different set of referees.
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Indiana coach Frank Vogel sent 6-foot-8 rookie Paul George to chase Rose more often, then dusted off Dahntay Jones, who didn't play at all in the first two games, and also used more traps, sometimes deep in the backcourt.
All those plans produced terrific success for the Pacers, until it mattered most. Rose was 3-for-17 from the field overall, 0-for-8 in the second half, when the Bulls took possession with the score tied and 33.4 seconds remaining.
Rose took a look at Jones, then blew past him with a left-handed dribble. Danny Granger had no hope of closing off the lane in time, and Rose ended up with a relatively easy lay-in that gave the Bulls an 88-84 victory at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Once again, the Pacers stayed close, gave it a great shot and came out a loser. The Bulls lead this first-round series 3-0 and can finish a sweep on Saturday afternoon.
"We've got the best closer in the world on our team," Kyle Korver said.
In addition to having the athletic skills to decide any close game, Rose also has that convenient personality trait of not worrying about the 17 shots he missed earlier in the game.
"I had confidence during the game to keep fighting though it," he said. "So what if I miss shots? It was tough all night the way they were playing me. But I saw a little space and just went to the hole."
Rose even complimented the Pacers on all of those strategic tools to get the ball out of his hands and constantly give him different looks on defense.
"That's just making me better as a player," he said. "They made it tough. It's supposed to be an easy game when two people are on the ball. We've just got to get a little bit better."
In Game 2, Rose produced 36 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in a 6-point Bulls victory, but Pacers coach Frank Vogel insisted 6-foot-8 Paul George did an excellent defensive job. Before Thursday's contest, Vogel continued to pump up George.
"I'm looking at highlights where Michael (Jordan) is going for 63 on the Celtics," Vogel said. "This guy's taking 25 shots a game, has the ball in his hands the entire game. He's capable of going for 50. So holding him to 36 points just might be doing a great job on him, as much as the ball's in his hands."
Rose seemed to bide his time early in the contest. He didn't score his first points until knocking down a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first quarter.
As a team, the Bulls went to the foul line just four times in the first half. During the third quarter, Rose seemed determined to find out what sort of punishment the Pacers were willing to pass out.
During one drive, Rose was hit across the face by Indiana center Jeff Foster and stuck around to bark about the result.
Foster later smacked Deng on the top of the head with an elbow, a foul that could easily have been ruled flagrant.
"You just have to go back in there and make your free throws," Deng said. "That's their game plan. It's the playoffs, no layups. They can keep doing that. We just have to have a strong mind-set of going right back and making free throws."
Inside the locker room, the Bulls just shrugged off all the rough fouls. Asked if this game was unusually physical, center Joakim Noah just smiled.
"It felt great," he said. "I'm not giving them no credit."
"It was an old-school game, as Kurt (Thomas) would say," added Taj Gibson. "A lot of 'bos (elbows) being thrown, but no crying. We kept playing through it and no let down.
"We go against Booz (Carlos Boozer), Joakim and Kurt in practice. That game was the kind of game we're used to playing in practice. It wasn't affecting us at all."