Coming into tonight losers of five out of their last six, the Chicago Bulls needed a couple off days to regroup. Even the players who aren't too injured to play still need valuable recovery time, and it sure seems like Mike Dunleavy took full advantage of that time off. Dunleavy, who hasn't found much consistency since returning from injury nearly a month ago now, finished tonight with 21 points to help lead the Bulls to a 103-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Dunleavy was red hot to start the night, but it was Nikola Mirotic who closed the game out, continuing his stellar fourth quarter play as of late. For the game, Niko finished with 25 points and nine rebounds on 8-15 shooting. Down the stretch, Joakim Noah was threading the needle, finding Mirotic in an assortment of ways. But when Mirotic wasn't receiving a helping hand from his teammates, he was punishing his man in one-on-one situations. Simply put, he was a matchup nightmare.
Like I mentioned at the top, the added rest looked like it definitely helped the Bulls. They had more energy, they played with pace, and after using their defense to set up their offense in the first half, the Bulls beat Indiana more fittingly in the halfcourt the rest of the way.
Dunleavy scored 19 points before halftime, which is more than he had scored in his previous four games combined. He was 5-7 from three in the first half, including a number coming from the right wing and also in transition. As a team, the Bulls went 6-13 from deep in the first half.
The Bulls led 51-41 at halftime and went up by 13 points early in the third quarter, but a 9-0 run by the Pacers made it a game again. It didn't help that Noah and Aaron Brooks both had to sit with foul trouble, and it definitely didn't help that Nazr Mohammed and Kirk Hinrich were the reinforcements Tom Thibodeau sent in to stop the bleeding.
However, the Bulls were able to right the ship thanks in large part to Mirotic, and Hinrich even had a nice sequence later in the game where he blocked a C.J. Watson shot and hit a three on the other end. The Bulls led by eight points going into the final frame, and the margin was never closer than six the rest of the way. Chicago closed with a three-big lineup, and minutes restrictions weren't a problem because of Noah's foul trouble. Huzzah!
The Pacers had lost two straight games coming in, but this was still an impressive victory considering Indy has generally been playing well of late. The Bulls needed a game like this, because they've been really fighting it short-handed.
Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are getting closer to a return, and perhaps we see them in the lineup against the Raptors on Friday.