The Bulls got off to a lethargic start, falling behind 12-4 after just 150 seconds of action. The starters were irresponsible with the ball, turning it over seven times in the opening quarter. Rajon Rondo was credited with one of the turnovers after falling out of bounds after a Fred Hoiberg timeout. He should have been blamed for another when he was unprepared to receive a pass from Wade as the Bulls initiated their half-court offense.
There was just one encouraging play on offense in the early part of the quarter, a possession filled with side-to-side ball movement that ended with Wade slashing to the rim for an easy layup. It’s a shame these players are just not committed to playing that way with any sort of consistency.
As bad as the offense was, the effort displayed on the defensive end was even worse. The Pacers made three of their four three-point attempts, all relatively open looks, and were able to waltz to the rim at will. Paul George entered the game with an edge after his controversial remarks after the Pacers and Bulls squared off on Monday.
The Bulls trailed by 12 at the half, and they were fortunate the deficit wasn’t larger. Jimmy Butler led the team in scoring with 15 points on 5/10 from the field and 5/5 from the line. Butler’s tenacity is admirable and it’s obvious he enjoys the challenge of facing his Olympic teammate Paul George. Butler is so good at this juncture of his career that the Bulls will always have a chance in any game he suits up for.
The Bulls trimmed the Pacers lead down to four points midway through the second quarter. In addition to the great play from Butler, Doug McDermott shot hot from the field, scoring 10 points on 4/5 field goal attempts and 2/2 from the line.
The game also tightened due to the insertion of Michael Carter-Williams into the game. MCW has a broken jump shot and is far from an ideal fit next to Wade and Butler, but he at least competes hard on defense, using every inch of his massive wingspan to pressure the ball.
MCW’s tenacious efforts were rewarded by Hoiberg as he was inserted into the starting lineup after halftime while Rondo, a team-worst -20 in the first half, was excised from the rotation. Carter-Williams played the first eight minutes of the third quarter and was subbed out for Jerian Grant. Rondo did not play at all in the second half.
The Bulls were able to tie the game up midway through the fourth quarter while George rested up before eventually taking over during the final stretch. A key part of the Bulls’ ability to get back into the game was the tremendous play of Cristiano Felicio, who played perhaps the best game of his career. Felicio finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds (six offensive) and a pair of assists. It was the first double-double of his career.
Felicio was excellent in the pick-and-roll, both on offense and defense. Felicio caught yet another alley-oop from Wade after a hard roll to the hoop, and was able to score on several put-backs because of his excellent timing when crashing the glass. On defense, Felicio was nimble enough to corral Jeff Teague at the top of the key, and quick enough to recover to his man after a pass. Felicio was rewarded for his great play and remained in at center for the entire fourth quarter:
Felicio has been one of the only bright spots tonight. pic.twitter.com/UcFhDwkP1I— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) December 30, 2016
Ultimately, the comeback attempt fell short as the Bulls’ offense sputtered through the final few minutes. Just when the Bulls were really rolling, Hoiberg made yet another fourth-quarter rotation mistake that cost them a chance to win. Playing Butler, Wade, MCW, Niko, and Felicio at the same time just does not make sense, and it makes scoring a nearly impossible task when the Pacers don’t feel threatened by any outside shot. I would have liked to see Fred keep McDermott in the game and take out MCW.
Yes, Doug was roasted on defense several times in this game by the likes of Glenn Robinson III, and yes, MCW’s 12 points and eight rebounds were incredibly valuable for Chicago, but this was a pretty obvious substitution mistake that strangled the Bulls’ offense when it was finally coming alive.
After the game, Hoiberg wouldn’t commit to a starting point guard for the NYE tilt against the Bucks, so there’s a chance this Rondo benching is actually a thing.