INDIANAPOLIS – The Chicago Bulls are on the verge of sweeping the Indiana Pacers, even though they haven't looked all that dominant.
The Bulls have won the first three hard-fought games by a combined 15 points, wrapping things up in the final moments each time. The Bulls could end the series Saturday at Conseco Fieldhouse and rest up for the second round.
It's been a frustrating run for the scrappy Pacers. Indiana lost double-digit leads in the first two games, then squandered a five-point advantage in the fourth quarter Thursday before losing 88-84 after a late layup by Derrick Rose.
"I felt like it was right there, but it just didn't happen," Pacers guard Darren Collison said. "It's kind of tough, this happening three games in a row."
Indiana now wants to salvage its pride.
"We need at least one win in this to be respectable and build on it," Pacers forward Danny Granger said.
Rose said it's good that the Bulls have had to fight through challenges in each game.
"We're pretty good," he said. "We've been winning games and we didn't even play our best basketball yet. We've been finding ways to win. I think these games are going to help us in the long run."
Rose averaged 37.5 points in the first two games of the series, but he was held to 23 points on 4-for-18 shooting in Game 3 as Paul George and Dahntay Jones brought a physical edge to the Pacers' trapping defense.
Rose said Jones made his job much more difficult.
"It changed the game," he said. "That's what we don't want to happen — guys coming off the bench to change the whole game, and that's what he did."
In the third quarter of Game 3, Rose drove to the hoop, and Indiana center Jeff Foster caught him with an elbow to the head that knocked him off balance. He took exception, and the two had to be separated.
Pacers interim coach Frank Vogel said it was just a hard foul.
"I think he just plays hard," he said. "I don't think it was just one play. He hits people on every play."
Rose expects more of the same treatment on Saturday.
"It's basketball," he said. "You're going to get hit. You've just got to be prepared for it. They're trying to play a rough game. If anything, I'm used to it. My teammates have got my back."
Rose said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has kept the team focused on basketball and not the hits.
"He's been doing a good job making sure we don't do anything foolish out there, saying we're going to pay them back by making the free throws," Rose said. "We're trying to do something special, and that something special is bigger than any technical foul."
Bulls center Joakim Noah, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in Game 3, said the Pacers are running out of answers.
"There's a reason they're playing like that," he said. "They've got to do something."
Noah said he hopes the Pacers don't change their physical approach.
"It's good," he said. "It gets us going. They should keep doing that."
The Pacers have had no answer for Kyle Korver. The veteran shooter has drained 7 of 8 3-pointers in the series and made critical long-range shots in all three games. He scored 10 points in the final quarter of Game 3, and played a role in Rose's crucial late layup.
"Korver killed us in the fourth," Vogel said. "He even killed us on that last play when we couldn't leave him to help."
Rose said he trusts Korver, who was signed from Utah before the season along with Carlos Boozer.
"He's knocking down shots," Rose said. "If he's open, we don't care how far away he is from the basket, we tell him to shoot. His chances are better than ours."
While Chicago has been strong in the fourth quarter throughout the series, the Pacers have fallen apart at winning time. Granger, who leads the Pacers with 21.3 points per game in the series, said the team's failure to execute late in Game 3 is another example of youth becoming an issue at the worst possible time.
"This is part of lack of ball movement and inexperience," he said. "We didn't have that many good looks and we didn't hit very many."
Chicago's defense also hounded the Pacers, holding them to 38 percent shooting in Game 3. The Pacers made just 8 of 23 shots in the fourth quarter.
"I would put it on defense," Vogel said. "Our guys are a good offensive team. They (the Bulls) just step up and make big plays."
Vogel was pleased with the way his team played in Game 3, but disappointed that there was no tangible reward.
"We competed at a high level and deserved to win," he said. "I know close doesn't count, but our guys fought."
Thibodeau said he expects the Bulls to be prepared on Saturday.
"I think we have a tough, hard-nosed team," he said. "We know that we still have a long way to go."