INDIANAPOLIS – Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel is walking a fine line as he tries to keep his team competitive in its first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls.
He wants his young players to remain confident after pushing Chicago to the limit in the first two games, yet he doesn't want them to be satisfied for testing the top-seeded Bulls in a pair of losses at the United Center. Chicago has a 2-0 lead as the series shifts to Conseco Fieldhouse for Game 3 on Thursday.
"We've just got to guard against everyone in the world telling us how happy they are that we're hanging in with them," Vogel said. "We're 0-2 against them."
Vogel, still displaying the confidence that has been his trademark since taking over for Jim O'Brien at midseason, said he expects the Pacers to bounce back.
"We've stood toe to toe with this team," he said. "We know we can play with this team, we know we can beat this team. We expect to beat this team in Game 3."
Vogel figures the Bulls, who had the best record in the league in the regular season, aren't happy with being in a dogfight against the only team that entered the playoffs with a losing record.
"All they're hearing is how they're not getting it done," he said. "They're going to come hungrier. We've got to come hungrier than we've come."
The Pacers lost double-digit leads in both of the first two games. The Bulls know the games have been closer than expected, but the most important thing is that they can go up 3-0 with a win.
"We just don't want to relax," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "Whether we go out and win by 20 or win by one or whatever, I think there's always going to be something that we're going to talk about that we want to get better at. That's just been us all year, where we're never too high and never too low. We just know what we want to get to."
To have a chance, Indiana will need to do a better job against Derrick Rose. The MVP candidate averaged 37.5 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the first two games.
The Pacers have primarily used Paul George to defend Rose, looking to bother him with the rookie's length and athletic ability while using other players to help. Though Rose has put up big numbers, Vogel said the 6-foot-8 George has done a good job of making the 6-foot-3 Rose work.
George shrugs off the point totals, instead focusing on the big picture.
"I don't really look at it as, I'm going to come out here and stop Derrick Rose," George said. "It's really, I'm coming out here to contain him. That's really the best you can do. If he goes for 30 shooting 25 shots, I would say I win."
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose will be ready for whatever the Pacers bring.
"We've seen everything that we're seeing," he said. "We've seen traps. We've seen size on him. He just has to keep doing what he's doing. He's doing fine."
Indiana's focus on Rose has had a ripple effect. Chicago had a 49-34 advantage on the boards in Game 1 and a 57-33 edge in Game 2.
"They're one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA," Vogel said. "Derrick Rose puts pressure on your team to help, for your bigs to constantly be helping, and if your bigs are constantly helping, challenging his shots, then it leaves you vulnerable on the glass."
Pacers center Jeff Foster said the effort is there, but the execution has to improve.
"We've just got to do a better job of putting bodies on guys and coming up with the ball," he said. "Their penetration puts us in difficult positions, but we have to overcome that and have a total team effort on the glass."
A big question for Indiana is whether point guard Darren Collison will be available after spraining his left ankle in Game 2.
"Hoping for the best, but we're listing him as doubtful," Vogel said. "He's very sore still. He's going to try to give it a go. I'm preparing to not have him."
If Collison can't go, A.J. Price would start and T.J. Ford would back him up. Price had 13 points in 24 minutes in Game 2. Ford has played sparingly this season, but he scored five points, including a 3-pointer from beyond halfcourt, in Game 2.
"Same focus, same mentality," Ford said. "I'm a veteran, I've been in the playoffs before. I've been in this league a long time. You always stay ready and stay prepared. My mentality is to come out and perform."
Thibodeau said the Pacers will be good either way.
"They have quality depth, not just up front, in their backcourt too," he said. "They're a deep team. At the beginning of the year, they had injuries. Now they're healthy. They're good."
Though Indiana is heading home, the Pacers were last in the league in attendance during the regular season while the Bulls were first. With Chicago just three hours away, the threat of a red-and-black takeover of Conseco Fieldhouse was a concern.
"We need to fill the building with blue and gold," said Vogel, who joked that the Pacers have a plan to keep Bulls fans away.
"We're going to have metal detectors out there to scan the metal people are bringing in the building, but people who are wearing red ... they're not going to get through the metal detectors, either."