The Bulls never trailed, but after leading comfortably for much of the game did allow the Pacers to tie. Luckily though the Pacers had a chance to steal a win, Jimmy Butler ended the Bulls second win this season with a block on a star, first against LeBron in the opener and this one against Paul George.
The game was up for grabs because Derrick Rose exited the game with 6 minutes remaining after a non-contact ankle sprain. Up until that point, though the Pacers weren't being put away easily, Rose looked very good. He was pushing the ball from the jump, scoring or assisting on the Bulls first 10 points as they jumped to a 15-2 lead. Rose took advantage of the Pacers missing George Hill and Rodney Stuckey, and he roasted Monta Ellis to get to his spots in midrange and hit several bank shots. Rose even went 2-2 from three (he was 1-18 entering the game) to finish with 23 points on 18 shots overall. But his floor game was even more impressive, getting 6 assists to zero turnovers, and some easy conversions from teammates could've gotten him more in the assist category.
So it was a real bummer that Rose's exit meant a paltry offensive performance down the stretch, because with him at the helm the team looked like they were appropriately taking care of an undermanned team for once. In the first quarter especially, the Bulls not only had that hot start from the starters (including Tony Snell getting another chance, and he hit 2 threes in his opening stint) but got solid bench performances from Noah, Gibson, and McDermott. Outside of Rose and Butler, Gibson may have had the best performance of the night, stuffing the box score with 9 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks.
On the defensive end, he and Noah led a Bulls interior defense that was doing great work stifling Indiana in the paint, and the Pacers shot 9-33 from two in that half. The thing keeping them within double-digits was they went 6-12 from three. Going small with their shallow big-man rotation, Indiana was able to use CJ Miles to exploit Niko Mirotic, going 4-6 from distance as Mirotic was losing him on the arc. Paul George was 2-2 (and 4-5 for the game) from range, so even though the Pacers were looking extremely sloppy with the ball and missing some inside chances (Bulls had nice effort on transition D) they weren't out of it.
The second half was more of a grinded-out FT contest, with the Pacers going 11-17 and the Bulls going 15-22. Overall the Bulls won the FTA battle with 32 attempts, though they left some points on the board hitting only 62.5% of them. Butler found himself in 2nd half foul trouble with a couple pretty flimsy calls going against him, so even if he perhaps could've been called for a foul on George's final attempt, he earned the clean block karmically.
- Aaron Brooks received a DNP-CD, as Kirk Hinrich was the first sub for Rose and actually gave them solid minutes. Having to come in again after Rose's injury was clearly a bridge too far, and thankfully Hoiberg put in E'Twaun Moore for the final few possessions. Moore wasn't hitting his wide-open looks, but he was at least able to slow down Ellis who had been heating up a bit.
- Saw some real nice offensive 2-man plays in the Rose/Noah/Gibson/McDermott lineup, Noah even having a rare-these-days over-50% shooting night (4-7) with 4 assists. The Bulls also completed a couple successful lobs, that actually looked good!
- The offense went in the tank in the 4th quarter after Rose's exit, and by the end Hoiberg was on the sidelines just pointing at people to go places. Luckily after a pretty horrid night (shooting 2-11), Gasol was able to earn a trip to the line, and then set a solid screen to give Butler just enough space to hit a still-difficult shot. Hoiberg was caught with Gasol on the floor for a late defensive possession, but fortunately the Pacers were late to attack and Gasol held his own forcing Ellis to pass under the hoop, and the Bulls deflection meant they could go back to defensive subs for that final George try.
- Snell played pretty good ball-denial and transition D, but he missed all his shots after those 2 threes and made two really dumb plays: airballing a turnaround jumper with 20 seconds on the shot clock to end the 3rd quarter, then running right into a turnover with a minute remaining.
- Mirotic remained as ineffective as he's been all month, not only the mentioned poor defense but unable to use his size advantage on offense, and missing real badly on several of his jumpers. At least though McDermott had another couple bad defensive trips he's still shooting very well. Though Niko started, he finished with 16 and half minutes played.