The Bulls ran into another tough opponent in their Central Division rival, the Pacers, and once again came up short of a win. In a game that looked all but over at many times throughout the night, it came down to the final moments and a few crucial errors, many made by a number of combinations of inexperience and fatigue. Indiana also happens to be one of those few teams that can really take away the rebounding advantage the Bulls usually enjoy and tonight they did exactly that, out-rebounding the Bulls 42-34.
After starting off the game fairly well, the Pacers were able to rack up an 11-4 run to close out the first quarter with a 32-21 lead. The bench unit was brought in and somehow a combination of Marquis Teague, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic, along with Jimmy Butler, was able to actually able to keep pace with the Pacers and even close the gap to 7 by the half. The bench unit looked impressive with Nazr providing some good interior defense to spell Noah, who looked completely fatigued at many points in the game. Teague showed a lot of confidence and was a lot more decisive in making plays and in running the offense.
Belinelli hit a lot of timely shots tallying 20 points. The Bulls fought hard and kept closing the gap little by little and even when all seemed lost at the end with a 5 point deficit and only 30 seconds left, mistakes by the Pacers, missed free throws, and a clutch triple from Butler lead to the Bulls having a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. The Bulls however were unable to inbound the ball effectively and ended up bobbling the ball and eventually coughing it up to the Pacers.
The Bulls fought the good fight and showed a ton of heart and hustle in their valiant effort to gut out a victory but just simply couldn’t close it out. There were signs of fatigue, from being undermanned, and inexperience, from units that clearly hadn’t played together very much, that would ultimately decide the game. Despite all the things that were in favor of the Pacers, the Bulls once again were able to make a game out of it but just came up short.
Some positives to take from this game were Jimmy Butler’s career high 20 points, which came along with three unexpected triples, and Derrick Rose finally making his public debut on the bench in a suit. While it’s a tough loss that may all but guarantee that the Bulls will not be getting a top 3 seed, the focus as always needs to be on the next game. With each passing game, win or loss, Bulls fans can also find some solace in being just another day closer to the return of Rose as we were all reminded of with his presence on the bench tonight.