I was worried about this New Year’s Eve game against the Pacers, even with Indy missing so many guys. A NYE midday game on the road while playing a fourth game in six nights against a tough matchup was a recipe for things to get weird.
Things got weird.
In a truly ugly game that the Bulls had no business winning, they escaped from Indy with a 108-106 victory thanks to an absolutely ridiculous one-legged 3-pointer from DeMar DeRozan at the buzzer. Quite frankly, it was a terrible shot:
Zach LaVine’s reaction kind of says it all. He seemed to be so shocked that the ball didn’t swing over to him or Nikola Vucevic that he had basically no reaction to winning the game. DeRozan even admitted in his postgame interview he lost track of the clock.
That shot capped off what had been one of DeRozan’s worst shooting performances of the season. While he finished with 28 points, with 13 coming in the fourth quarter, he went 8-of-24 from the field and was short on a bunch of his jumpers all game. He also had a few uncharacteristic turnovers and was upset at the officials at several points, though he did go 11-of-12 from the foul line.
Despite his awful shooting night, DeRozan managed to hit his last two. He also got a big steal right before the miracle shot as the Bulls got the big stop they needed, which came right after DeRozan scored off his own offensive rebound.
LaVine was bad for much of this game as well, scoring 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting and missing all three of his 3-point attempts. He had four turnovers and just seemed totally off, struggling with his handle, his footing and even seeing two loose balls squeak right through his legs. After being so hot all December, this was just a weird, off-kilter performance from him.
Vucevic had 14/16/4, but he struggled to 6-of-16 shooting and 2-of-7 from 3. So if we’re doing math, that’s 21-of-57 from the Bulls’ three best players.
Meanwhile, the Pacers destroyed the Bulls on the glass and in the paint. Indy racked up 17 offensive rebounds and 25 second chance points. They had 58 points in the paint to just 32 for the visitors. The Pacers obliterated the Bulls in these areas in the fourth quarter and looked like they were going to ride that wave to a victory.
Given all this, how did the Bulls win?
For one, we can thank Coby White, who put together another strong game as he starts to find a rhythm. White had 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting overall and 6-of-7 from 3-point range, including a huge 3-pointer in crunch time right when it looked like the Bulls were dead in the water after a brutal LaVine turnover resulted in a 104-98 deficit with just over two minutes to play.
White also had four assists and three steals in a solid all-around performance. The Bulls getting him on track so he can become a lethal bench weapon when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso return would be huge. Ball won’t play against the Wizards on New Year’s Day, but it sounds like he should be back next week.
It also helped that the Pacers’ offense had their own problems. While Caris LeVert had 27 points and Domantas Sabonis crushed it with 24/14/6, Indy shot just 41.8% from the field and 8-of-31 from 3-point range. Justin Holiday went 5-of-9 from 3, so all the other Pacers combined to shoot 3-of-22 from deep. Indy also turned the ball over 17 times, turning into 24 Bulls points.
As bad as the Bulls played, they were actually winning most of the night. They were just never able to shake the Pacers thanks to their own struggles and Indy making enough timely plays. The Pacers’ fourth-quarter surge looked like it was going to be enough to send the Bulls into 2022 with a loss, but instead it’s a six-game winning streak and a 23-10 record.
It’s also first place in the Eastern Conference thanks to the Nets losing to the Sixers on Thursday. That’s right, the Bulls are going into 2022 atop the East. How about that?
Happy New Year, everybody! Get ready for another game against the Wizards on Saturday. Let’s never talk about this mess of a game again, even if I think it’s one of the best wins of the season given the circumstances.