USA TODAY Sports
A remarkable 2nd half from Marco Belinelli not quite enough
Even though the Bulls were once again undermanned and facing a very formidable opponent, to fans of this team the fact that they started the game down 13-2 still wasn't a perceived death knell. As they're, apparently, the most resilient team ever, the Bulls managed to make up that deficit by the end of the first quarter and though they were behind the entire second half they made it a more competitive game than it should've been in a 111-101 loss to the Pacers.
In yet another example of the toughness the Bulls exhibit up and down the roster, Marco Belinelli had an incredible 13-point fourth quarter after spraining his ankle earlier in the game. The sprain looked pretty bad (and was actually caused a play earlier than the one he went down on), but Fred cleared him and Marco wound up with 24 points at a point-per-minute pace. Lance Stephenson certainly had an athletic advantage in his attempt to guard Belinelli, but he was still frequently a step behind as Belinelli kept hitting midrange jumpers. Visibly laboring, Belinelli was able to bust out every trick and fake he could think of as he went around screens and played a two-man game with Taj Gibson.
Another heady Belinelli play occurred with the Bulls down 4 points late, where he appeared to have saved the ball of of Roy Hibbert's leg. It was ruled instead as Pacer ball, followed by an effortless Paul George three-pointer, and the Bulls never got closer than that margin. They appeared to be disgusted by the time this was over, as Tom Thibodeau kept the fouling strategy up until the final 10 seconds, and after the final whistle everybody (save Nate, of course) walked right off a Pacers home floor where Indiana is now 19-3. It was a game that had some chippiness throughout (Rip had a technical foul), as two physical teams went at it but the Bulls were just a bit undersized with all their injuries and thus seemed to get the worst of it.
The Pacers were smart in using their size, at least where David West was concerned. Especially when finding himself against Bulls SFs Deng and Butler, West was aggressive in calling for the ball and played nearly flawless offensive basketball, finishing with 29 points on 18 shots. Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough had similar circumstantial advantages but were mostly tall useless clods with the opportunity, though one area they did chip in with was offensive rebounding, where they trounced the Bulls to a 36%-26% edge in offensive rebounding rate.
Before the 4th quarter, it was actually a fairly proficient offensive game (Pacers were at 63% midway through the 3rd) between two teams who you wouldn't think could accomplish such a thing. I'm not sure if it's Nate Robinson being Nate Robinson, or opposing guards seeing they're being guarded by Nate Robinson, but both teams pushed the pace. Nate had a very good game despite early foul trouble, hitting 3 of the Bulls only 4 three-point makes on the night to get to 19 points, 9 assists, and an amazing zero turnovers in his 40 minutes. George Hill countered with 22 points of his own but had 4 turnovers, an issue throughout for Indiana even when things were going well in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
The Pacers had several highlight plays from George (21 points) and Stephenson (15) but the Bulls kept relatively close. Even though Luol Deng didn't finish with a good line, I thought he was still an extremely tough performance from him, and similar praise could be given to Taj Gibson. Carlos Boozer did return tonight after missing the last several games with a hamstring injury, but struggled finishing shots in his 23 minutes and was noticeably slow running the floor which cost the Bulls in transition. The Bulls then tried to go small, which has been their best bet without Noah, but Indiana was just too much size to overcome (their starters, anyway...their bench was terrible), even after Belinelli's heroics at the end. Hopefully that's not another lingering issue, as I think we've seen enough injuries already.