The Bulls played a nearly flawless half of offensive basketball in the first half against the Pacers at the United Center on Wednesday night, going up by as many as 24 points. The visitors used a ridiculous run of shotmaking in the third quarter to pull within 95-91 late in the frame, but as they did in the first half, the Zach LaVine-plus-bench unit pushed the Bulls’ lead back out again. The fourth quarter featured a lot of ugliness, with the Bulls ultimately earning a convincing 124-109 victory to get to 3-2 on the season.
The first half was truly a thing of beauty. The Bulls put up 76 points on 59.1%/56.2%/93.8% shooting splits. They racked up 19 assists on 26 baskets and only turned the ball over five times. They took 16 3-pointers and free throws apiece while scoring 30 points in the paint. It was an offensive clinic, with contributions coming from everywhere. 10 players scored at least four points, with LaVine’s 16 points leading the way and the Goran Dragic-Andre Drummond duo making magic:
In the third quarter, the Pacers caught fire, going 7-of-11 from 3-point range to get back in the game. They were torching the Bulls with dribble penetration and getting defensive rotations all out of sorts, and the combination of first Jalen Smith and then Buddy Hield made them pay. Those two combined for six of the seven Pacers triples in the quarter.
Just as it seemed as if the Bulls might choke this one away, the bench came in and stemmed the tide. The defense of Alex Caruso and Javonte Green played a key role, with Green adding to his highlight reel with two massive dunks. One was a lob from Dragic that I truly have no idea how he caught:
It was Dragic who then really gave the Bulls some separation with back-to-back triples early in the fourth, and a LaVine trey then made it a 17-point game again. Things got sloppy the rest of the way, but Ayo Dosunmu helped shut the door with a pair of buckets and Caruso put the final nail in the coffin with one last 3-pointer. The Bulls shot a red-hot 16-of-30 from 3-point range for the game and wound up with 34 assists.
LaVine led the way with 28 points while taking just 13 shots. I generally loved his shot distribution in this game, with eight of his 13 shots coming from deep while he also attacked and got to the charity stripe 12 times (he made 10). While he did turn the ball over five times and got stuffed on drives a few times as well, this was a strong overall game for LaVine as he rounded things out with six boards and five dimes.
All five Bulls starters scored in double figures, including Patrick Williams, who finally showed a pulse with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and 2-of-2 from deep. Williams recorded his first assist of the season (he actually had two of them!) and had two steals while also taking a charge. He didn’t grab a rebound, had a couple ugly turnovers while trying to handle the ball and didn’t play well defensively in the third quarter, which may have contributed to him not seeing the court again after his initial stint in that frame. Still, baby steps.
Meanwhile, the bench was truly dynamite. Dragic’s relentless pressure with the ball in his hands and wizardry with his passing played a key role in the Bulls’ offensive success, and his shotmaking wasn’t too shabby either. He had 13 points and five assists while making all three of his 3-pointers. The connection with Drummond was on point, and the big man had eight points and 13 rebounds in 17 minutes. All I ask from Drummond is to never dribble.
The Bulls’ bench racked up 43 points, and Dragic, Drummond, Caruso and Derrick Jones Jr. all finished at least plus-16 or better in the box score. It was this quartet and LaVine that dominated their minutes.
This was a game the Bulls needed to win, and they took care of business. The Pacers are talented with some explosive offensive players (they also blocked 11 shots), but they just aren’t any good yet and you can’t be losing these games on your home court. Like the Celtics game, it was great to see the Bulls take a punch and then punch back to not only win but avoid crunch time.
The Spurs are up next on Friday in San Antonio. They’re another feisty rebuilding team, so the Bulls can’t sleepwalk there if they want to get a win. DeMar DeRozan didn’t reach the 20,000-point mark against the Pacers by scoring just 17, so he should hit that milestone against his former team. He’ll need just seven points.