INDIANAPOLIS — You can clock Derrick Rose in the head, as Jeff Foster did midway through the third quarter.
You can throw long-armed defenders at him like Paul George or try fresh looks like Dahntay Jones. You can even harass him into 4-for-18 shooting, as the Pacers did Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse with a withering, brutally physical defense.
But you can't stop Rose's spirit.
That's why Rose wrote another chapter in his growing legend, driving past Jones and scoring with his left hand over Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger with 17.8 seconds left, the game-winning shot in the Bulls' gritty 88-84 victory over the Pacers. The Bulls now lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals 3-0 with a chance to close out the sweep here Saturday.
Expect more undeniability.
"He plays so strong, keeps attacking," Kyle Korver said. "And he does it every night. There are a lot of things about him that are amazing. But the ability to take that pounding and keep on going is the best. That last drive was incredible. I don't know how he got the shot off."
After it found bottom, Luol Deng, who had a brilliant all-around game, smothered Granger into a 3-point miss with 2.9 seconds left. Ronnie Brewer rebounded and iced the victory with two free throws with 1.1 seconds left.
Contributors were everywhere.
Deng finished with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists in a wearying 45:11, including the first three quarters straight. He kept the Bulls in it early with 14 of their 42 first-half points.
"You just can't say enough about that guy," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I've said it all year: He does everything for us. He keeps us together. He's a complete player who plays great individual and team defense. He's the ultimate winner."
Korver sank all four fourth-quarter shots including two 3-pointers, scoring 10 of his 12 when it mattered most.
"The bigger the shot, the better Kyle is," Thibodeau said.
Joakim Noah hustled his way to 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Keith Bogans sank all three of his 3-point attempts. And the Bulls overcame Carlos Boozer's meager four-point effort by taking better care of the ball down the stretch, with just four second-half turnovers.
But in the end, Rose rose above all, getting to the line 15 more times, making 13 free throws, and relentlessly attacking no matter the punishment.
"He's a tough kid," Noah said. "It doesn't matter what his shooting percentage is. He doesn't let that rattle him."
Rose missed his first four shots and didn't score until sinking a 3-pointer with 49.5 seconds left. His struggles continued in the second quarter when he picked up his second offensive foul — the Pacers had just four overall team fouls at halftime — and had a layup spectacularly blocked by George. That started a fast-break score as part of a 12-2 run that pushed the Pacers ahead 38-33.
Rose was just 3 of 12 for nine points when Foster fouled him hard, setting off a minor scrum with words flying.
"It was a little irritating," Rose said. "But that's basketball. That's his job. If you don't stand up to it, no one will."
Later in the quarter, Foster clobbered Deng in the head.
"I have a lot of respect for Foster," Thibodeau said. "He's hard-playing, tough."
So is the team Thibodeau coaches.
Korver's 3-pointer with 7:04 left capped a 10-0 run that turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead. And later, Rose performed his late-game magic.
"It was tough the way they were playing me," Rose said. "I missed shots I usually hit, But I saw space and opportunity and I just went. So what if I missed shots? I have confidence at the end of games to keep fighting through. That's just the way I am."
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