The Bulls had little business being in Sunday night's nationally-televised game in Indiana, except that their business usually includes playing their asses off. And the Bulls effort and some well-timed shooting performances almost earned them an improbable win. But while they overcame a nearly game-long deficit to tie the game just after the 4th quarter began, they never could get the lead and wound up falling 97-92 to the new leader of the division.
With the Bulls on a back-to-back with no Taj Gibson and Rip Hamilton, their fortunes only looked worse with Kirk Hinrich having yet another
fall in a well wuss-out move against a good team injury I guess to his foot this time or something. And the Pacers came out to a blistering 1st quarter, shooting 60% on their way to 32 points. They had turnover problems that plagued them all game, but in the beginning it looked like it was from overzealous passing on fast breaks than anything, as their aggression either would get them solid looks or a way to take the Bulls on the offensive glass before they could even set themselves.
So when the Bulls second quarter lineup featured a frontcourt of Nazr Mohammed and Vlad Radmanovic along with their 4th string rookie PG, it looked like it was going to get worse before it got better. But Mohammed wound up having his best stretch of the season with 7 points and a couple of blocks, and the Bulls deep bench actually gained some ground even as the Pacers went back to their starters. Not only did it keep the game from getting out of hand early, it meant key rest for Noah so he could play more in the second half.
While it showed that the Pacers have just as many (and really: a lot more) issues with their reserve unit, what wasn't working in that time for the Bulls was David West exploiting every matchup made available to him. West scored on Radmanovic at will in that quarter, and did similar bad things to Luol Deng and rendered Carlos Boozer to a relative no-show (17 minutes with Taj Gibson hurt?). West wound up with a game-high 31 points on 18 shots, including a putback late which was their final FG of the game. George Hill found a similar groove as he was able to overpower both diminutive Bulls PGs, and finished a perfect 6-6 from the field and added 6 more from the line for 21 points.
Like Boozer, Nate Robinson was also not used in the 4th quarter due to poor defensive play, and it affected the Bulls as they especially struggled to generate good shots late with Marquis Teague unable to spread the floor. But Teague did earn the chance to be out there, as the lower end of the Bulls roster (in addition to another heroic, if less spectacular, Noah performance) made this a competitive game in the first place. Marco Belinelli played nearly 45 minutes and was 4-5 from three, though his last miss was a wild one early in a possession that could've tied the game late. Even better from the wing tonight was Jimmy Butler, who had 20 points on only 11 shots (including some lovely corner threes). Between he and (mostly) Deng, the Pacers didn't have the advantage at the 2-3 spots as Paul George had only 10 points on 4-14 shooting in 44 minutes, and Lance Stephenson had a hot start and not much else as he finished 3-10 from the field. Danny Granger looked woeful (including a remember-me-I'm-Danny-Granger iso to end the first half) and had to leave the game early due to more trouble with the knee that has bothered him all season.
It was perhaps a game that showed more issues with the Pacers (bench, Granger, Hibbert when he isn't scoring on putbacks) than what we can learn about the Bulls. We know the Bulls problems, and a lot of it is due to injuries (and sadly, that's likely not going away). It's certainly not effort, even if down to the very end of the roster.