A rumor, a benching, a lethargic start and rousing comeback all took place in a matter of hours at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, all involving the Chicago Bulls in their second game in five days against the Indiana Pacers.
But it started with bricks and ended that way in a 111-101 loss Friday afternoon, as they were seemingly doomed by an early start that made one think if they knew what time the game began and were surely doomed when their inability to execute came back to haunt them.
“We had open threes that didn’t knock down tonight but I’m proud of the way our guys competed and fought their way back in it to tie the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Couldn’t just quite get over the hump.”
After coming back from a 14-point deficit, the Bulls tied the game at 95 midway through the fourth quarter, seemingly with enough momentum to complete it—on the heels of Fred Hoiberg benching Rajon Rondo for the second half after a minus-20 showing in 10 minutes of first half run.
A fourth quarter surge started with Cristiano Felicio getting a follow-up dunk and foul and a dunk from a pick-and-roll from Dwyane Wade. After Nikola Mirotic finally hit an open jumper, the Bulls found themselves trailing by five with 9:02 left—plenty of time to complete the comeback but perhaps not enough energy.
“It’s something where you gotta take it personally,” Hoiberg said. “About a week ago, it was us getting out to good starts. You spend so much energy getting out of it, you don’t have enough to finish.”
Perhaps if the Bulls found a way to keep feeding Doug McDermott on the offensive end, they could’ve stayed afloat as he went without a shot in the second half after going four for five in the first 24 minutes.
But McDermott also blew plenty of coverages defensively, drawing the frustration of his teammates and coaches in the moment.
“We better know what it takes to win games. We gotta be more focused in on our personnel,” said Jimmy Butler, who led the Bulls with 25 points. “We gotta be more focused on what this and that player is gonna do. We can’t take for granted we have good players who can score. Nowadays teams can score 120 points, we gotta lock in on the defensive end. We gotta rebound, it’s the little things we’re not doing that are changing it for the worst.”
When asked if the Bulls are becoming too comfortable falling behind only to have to make late comebacks, Butler couldn’t deny the evidence that’s been on display for several weeks.
“I don’t wanna say that’s what it is. (But) that’s what it’s trending to right now,” he said. “Is it fun for us? I don’t think so but we love to put ourselves in those situations. I can’t put my finger on it. The team that runs and wins the first quarter usually wins the game.”
The Pacers hit their first seven shots and took a 24-10 lead before Paul George finished the night off with some big buckets on his way to 32 points, a game-high.
“Poor start, poor finish. I think everyone wants to win,” Butler said. “We gotta play better in the beginning and down the stretch. We didn’t get stops, from miscues on defense. PG hit tough shots, that’s what he does.”
Missing shots is apparently what the Bulls do.
Mirotic went three for 14, including missing nine of his 11 3-point attempts as the Bulls shot six for 23 from long-range, playing from behind the entire night and never taking the lead.
Wade scored 20 with five assists, but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and surrendered way too many easy baskets to the Pacers as their rivals built a double-digit lead early.
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After the Bulls’ comeback, George slithered around the Bulls defense for a layup to put the Pacers up 102-99, after hitting three free throws from a foul on Butler with the game tied.
George, who was fined after saying the NBA favors other teams against the Pacers in the wake of the Pacers’ close loss to the Bulls Monday, went to the foul line nine times.
The Pacers nearly equaled the Bulls in free-throw attempts (31-30, Bulls) and shot 48 percent as Jeff Teague sliced the Bulls’ defense for 17 assists—partially a reason why Hoiberg could’ve pulled Rondo for the second half.
Thad Young scored 17 and Myles Turner scored 15 as the Bulls again found themselves playing behind the 8-ball—something they seem way too familiar with as this season progresses.