The Chicago Bulls fell to the Indiana Pacers 115-108 Thursday night in what was a competitive contest for three quarters before the Bulls’ bench collapsed in the fourth. Going into the game, Paul George declared his belief that the Pacers’ offense could average as much as 115 points per game this season, and the Bulls did nothing to deter that hypothesis thanks to terrible transition defense and a hot shooting night from three for Indiana.
The Bulls opened the first quarter with Nikola Mirotic starting at the four spot and Rajon Rondo’s first of what I’m sure will be many violations of the “no-headband” rule. It must have helped him get into a groove, because Rondo scored ten of the Bulls’ first twenty-one points—all on layups—without missing any of his five attempts (though he bricked an And-1 freethrow pretty badly). However, the Bulls struggled to execute successfully elsewhere, as their transition defense failed to contain the Pacers early on and the team committed three turnovers in the first four minutes. The Bulls also did not hit a three until Doug McDermott canned one eight minutes into the quarter, while the Pacers went 4/8 from downtown for the period. Fortunately, Dougie caught fire in the final two minutes and hit two more threes to help knot the game at 33 apiece going into quarter number two.
The three alphas facilitated very well in the first half, finding the Bulls’ bigs in the paint and in transition with great consistency. Perhaps the best pass came during a fast break via a Dwyane Wade alley-oop to Bobby Portis:
Though Rondo didn’t record an assist of his own until the second quarter, he made some nice pocket-passes, including this one to Mirotic for a slam dunk:
Jimmy Butler quietly had four assists of his own to bring the trio’s total up to eleven in the first half, and Rondo banked in a buzzer-beater jumper to give the Bulls a 67-65 lead going into the lockeroom. It’s worth mentioning Fred Hoiberg got “creative” with his rotations fairly early on, giving Spencer Dinwiddie an extended run at backup point guard and—at one point—trotting out a Canaan/Rondo/Snell/Mirotic/Lopez lineup.
Curiously, Fred Hoiberg opened the second half with Tony Snell in the starting five over Butler. Butler would not re-enter the game after playing twelve total minutes in the first half. The Pacers promtly went on an 11-0 run after the Bulls scored the first two baskets of the quarter. Wade and Rondo had trouble holding onto the ball, committing four turnovers in the first six minutes combined.
Midway through the third, Paul Zipser made his Chicago Bulls debut. He had his hands full defensively being matched up with veteran Thaddeus Young, but overall played about as well as you could ask from a rookie in his first NBA action. Though he bricked his only three-point attempt badly, he had a nice blow-by on Young for a layup and did a great job of swinging the ball for open looks and setting solid on-ball screens. In what ended up being a rather quiet stretch for both teams following the Pacers’ initial run, Indiana concluded the third period up 84-83 on Chicago.
The fourth quarter opened with Dinwiddie continuing his excellent game off the bench, pouring in seven of the Bulls’ first nine points. Meanwhile, Zipser continued some solid play of his own by blocking Georges Niang down low (he also had another very athletic block stolen from him on a goaltend call), beating his man off the dribble numerous times, and drawing a shooting foul on a three. Unfortunately, the Bulls’ transition defense continued to get abused by the Pacers to the tune of Indiana surpassing the century mark with a six point lead midway through the quarter.
At this point, the Bulls had not hit a three in the second half before Snell finally knocked one in from the corner with four and a half minutes remaining. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t matter much as the Bulls couldn’t stop a nosebleed on defense other than a thunderous block from Cristiano Felicio in the final minute. Portis also committed a monumentally stupid foul that led to a four-point play for Glen Robinson III that pretty much sealed the deal for Indiana down the stretch. The final score ended up 115-108 in favor of the Pacers.
Take this result with a grain of salt, as Butler didn’t play in the second half and Rondo/Wade each only played 22 minutes, but there were a lot of areas tonight that the Bulls need to drastically improve going forward. The three point shooting was abysmal the entire game, as eight players failed to convert any of their downtown looks and the team shot a horrific 6/30 (20%) for the entire game. The transition defense also looked abhorrent, surrendering 21 fast break points.
Individually, there were good and bad performances. Spencer Dinwiddie vastly outplayed all of the guards not named Rondo, pouring in 19 points on 9/13 shooting and snagging six rebounds while committing only one turnover in 23 minutes. Nikola Mirotic was just flat-out awful, recording more turnovers than field goals and missing all five of his attempts from beyond-the-arc.
For the Pacers, Rodney Stuckey absolutely roasted the Bulls’ second unit players—particularly Doug McDermott—to the tune of 20 points on only ten shots and seven assists. Quite literally every time Stuckey got the ball, he immediately looked to attack a helpless McDermott that could do nothing but foul when Stuckey inevitably got into the lane. Though Paul George had a fairly bad game despite playing 24 minutes, five players other than Stuckey all scored in double figures and the team shot 47.4% from three while also beating Chicago on the glass 55-40.
Not a great game, but Hoiberg kept most of the Bulls’ best talent on the shelf for the majority of the second half, so its hard to draw any concrete conclusions. The Bulls will have an opportunity for some payback as the play host to the Pacers on Saturday night.