After the Bulls fired Fred Hoiberg and John Paxson made a big deal about spirit, energy and passion, you knew they were going to bring DA FIRE AND DA PASSION in Jim Boylen’s official Bulls head coaching debut against the Pacers.
And they did! It was obvious from the start that the broadcast crew (and later the studio show) was going to hammer this agenda home, and it got obnoxious to a point when they tried to stretch it to the offensive side as well, but the Bulls legitimately did put forth a quality effort on the defensive end. It helped they were facing a deliberate Pacers offense missing superstar Victor Oladipo, but the Bulls made multiple effort plays and held Indy to 43 points in the first half, a season-best mark for the defense.
Unfortunately, the Bulls’ offense was still mostly trash, and that poor offensive performance resulted in a 96-90 loss. It’s the Bulls’ seventh straight defeat to drop them to 5-20 on the season.
The Bulls shot under 40 percent from the field and racked up 19 turnovers, leading to 19 Pacers points. The Bulls did snag 12 offensive rebounds to just six for the Pacers to help wind up with a 94-76 field goal attempt advantage, but second-chance points still wound up the same at 12 apiece.
Also contributing to that field goal attempt advantage was a massive free-throw disparity. Some of this was because of late fouling as the Bulls attempted an ill-fated comeback attempt, but the Pacers outscored the Bulls 20-5 at the foul line. Chicago didn’t attempt a single free throw in the second half, and I don’t recall any extremely egregious misses by the officials.
The Bulls were led by Lauri Markkanen’s 21 points as he returned to the starting lineup and went through his supposed minutes restriction (24-28) to play 32 minutes, but he scored those points on 24 attempts. The Bulls did a nice job getting him open 3-point attempts, and he didn’t hesitate to get them up (5-of-13), but his rust was especially evident when he wasn’t just spotting up and shooting jumpers. He shot 3-of-11 inside the arc and put up some really ugly shots around the basket, clearly missing the necessary touch on those kinds of looks. He didn’t attempt a free throw, had only one assist to three turnovers and was a team-worst minus-12.
We did see Boylen go long stretches with Markkanen at the 5, leaving Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio out of the rotation, and those results weren’t particularly great. After the Bulls went up 12-6 behind Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. to start the game, the Pacers went on a 15-0 run, with a good chunk of that coming against a Markkanen/Jabari Parker frontcourt. Parker actually brought a lot of effort off the bench, but the Pacers exploited that lineup’s lack of rim protection to go on that run.
The Bulls did reel the Pacers back in after going down nine points to make it competitive the rest of the way, bolstered by that improved defensive effort and Indy’s own offensive issues. The Pacers turned the ball over 18 times themselves and shot just 6-of-22 on 3-pointers.
The Bulls entered the fourth quarter down just three points and got within one at the start of the frame, but the Pacers soon opened up an eight-point lead and held the Bulls at bay the rest of the way. Darren Collison had 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, while Myles Turner had 18 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, plus a huge jumper down the stretch.
Zach LaVine had a tough fourth quarter with 0 points on 0-of-5 shooting to finish with 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting for the game, but he did some nice work in the two-man game with multiple players, resulting in nine dimes.
Four other Bulls scored in double figures, with Carter racking up a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double in 31 minutes. He also had four assists, with most of those coming early. Carter’s presence was especially notable in the first half, as the Bulls outscored the Pacers by 14 points in his minutes that half. The rookie did take a hard fall in the second half and was grimacing at times after that, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an issue.
Justin Holiday added 15/6/3 in another stellar 41-minute performance, while Parker had just okay numbers with 12 points on 12 shots plus eight rebounds, four turnovers and a single assist (though the effort was improved, as noted, including a weak-side contest!). Cameron Payne was actually useful, scoring seven of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer in crunch time when he replaced the struggling Ryan Arcidiacono, who has really gone in the pits since his two big games last week. Payne’s triple was his first in two weeks.
All in all, you could call this an encouraging performance from the Bulls given what they showed defensively. Boylen was excited about the effort after the game:
A very upbeat Boylen: “I really like this team. I’m excited. We showed grit. I’m disappointed we lost but not discouraged. We competed.”— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 5, 2018
However, the question is this: Will it sustain? It’s easy to go out and play balls to the wall in the first game after a coach firing, especially when management and the new coach harped so much on that energy needing to be there. Will the Bulls keep it up as the season goes on and losses pile up? And will they be able to execute an efficient offense while doing so? Boylen said the conditioning has to improve, and we’ll see how things progress as Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis return in the coming weeks.