The Pacers are a much less formidable team this season with the loss of Paul George and departure of Lance Stephenson, but they beat the Bulls at the United Center earlier in the season, although Derrick Rose didn't play in that game. With Rose in the lineup this time around, it looked like Chicago was going to cruise to an easy victory when they went up by 21 points in the third quarter.
Instead, the Bulls utterly collapsed on both ends of the floor, and the Pacers used a 20-0 fourth-quarter run that spanned over seven minutes to surge ahead by three points. Indiana made its run with a bench unit that featured a lot of Chris Copeland, who used his size time and time again to dominate in the post. Copeland even scored on Jimmy Butler three times down low, which is surprising given Butler's strength.
But Butler got the last laugh, swatting Copeland on his last attempt in the post and then hitting what turned out to be a game-winning three pointer off a nice feed from Pau Gasol. Notice that Copeland carelessly helped off Butler:
Butler then drew an offensive foul on Copeland on the other end, giving the Bulls a chance to put a dagger in Indiana. Rose rimmed out a mid-range jumper to cap off a brutal 0-of-6 fourth quarter, but Chicago eked out a 92-90 victory when C.J. Watson missed a wide open attempt at a game-winning three. There was clearly a bad defensive breakdown on the play, but C.J. gonna C.J.
Butler was the star of the show yet again, putting up 27 points, nine rebounds and four steals. The Bulls guard shot just 8-of-20, but he made up for that by getting to the line 12 times. This was the 13th time this season Butler shot at least 10 free throws, tying him with James Harden for the league lead. Butler did all this in his customary 44 minutes and there really just aren't enough superlatives to describe him right now. His improvement is laughable at this point because I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it, and did I mention he was just named Eastern Conference Player of the Week?
Rose, on the other hand, was bad outside of a strong stretch at the start of the third quarter. He scored 17 points and handed out six assists, but he shot just 5-of-20 overall and 1-of-7 from the three-point line. Only five of his 20 shots came from in the paint, which simply isn't good enough, even if he's been on fire from mid-range this season. On a more positive note, he played nearly 35 minutes, which is the most he has played in a regulation game all season.
Outside of Rose and Butler, Pau Gasol was the only other Bull to score in double figures. Gasol had 20 points on an efficient 7-of-14 shooting, and he ended the long drought in the fourth quarter. The bench had a poor showing in this one, and Chicago shot a wretched 34.5 percent after going 2-of-21 in the final frame:
The start of the game featured some ugly play as well, with both teams struggling to put the ball in the basket. Rose and Gasol had some nice pick-and-pop going, but the Bulls point guard also felt compelled to shoot several awful threes that didn't really come close. Rose is basically giving away possessions by shooting threes early in the shot clock, and while I understand why he feels compelled to shoot them when given so much space, he probably should just stop.
The Pacers' offense was really bad in the first half, and the Bulls forced them into a ton of mid-range shots. Half of Indiana's shots came from mid-range in both of the first two quarters, and they made just 5-of-21 mid-range attempts in the first half. And as the Pacers struggled to get anything going offensively, Chicago took advantage and opened up a comfortable lead.
We saw Nikola Mirotic make a step-back three:
And Butler going the length of the floor and beating the buzzer with a dunk:
The lead was 12 points at the half, and in typical Bulls fashion, they kicked it up another notch in the third quarter. Rose flipped a switched and began attacking the basket, and even when he missed, they often led to good things. On two separate occasions, Rose broke down the defense and missed a shot, only for Butler to sneak in and tip-dunk the rebounds.
After Rose and Butler got things going to start the second half, Gasol and Mike Dunleavy took over from there. Gasol continued to have a field day with open jumpers, while Dunleavy scored eight points in the third quarter after going scoreless in the first half. In fact, all four of those players scored at least eight points in the quarter. The Bulls' lead ballooned to as many as 21 points and was 16 heading into the fourth quarter because the Pacers finally started to hit some shots.
The fourth quarter really was a disaster until Butler saved the day, and it's surprising that it happened given the Bulls have been the best fourth-quarter team in the league. I guess they were due for a poor showing in crunch time, but this was especially galling against the reserves of a bad Pacers team. I thought Dunleavy could have seen more run in fourth over a struggling Aaron Brooks (although Brooks had a sweet play early in the game when he nearly blocked Luis Scola on a fast break and drew an offensive foul), but Tom Thibodeau clearly loves his dual point-guard units down the stretch.
But for as embarrassing as this collapse was, it still ended up in a win, and that's all that matters. The victory was Chicago's seventh straight, and they'll be right back at it tomorrow night against the bad and boring Nets.