INDIANAPOLIS — The Bulls had the look of confusion on defense, again.
They failed to get back after misses and allowed wide-open 3-point shots, again.
Too many times they tried getting in the passing lane and compromised their defense for guard penetration or easy opportunities, again.
So it should be no surprise, again, to see the Bulls lose their third straight game, this time at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, a team they beat at home one week ago by a decisive margin.
The payback was served cold at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with a 111-94 Pacers win, making it three straight defeats for the Bulls, bringing them back to a .500 mark after they were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA with a 3-0 mark.
Not even Paul George’s ejection late in the third quarter would be nearly enough to spark a team playing in quicksand on the second day of a back-to-back, coming off the heels of Friday’s emotion-filled loss to the New York Knicks.
“I thought tonight we looked like a tired basketball team right out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They opened up with a 16-point lead and that’s a tough hole to dig yourself out of.”
George lightly booted a ball into the stands after being called for a foul against Jimmy Butler near the basket stanchion. The ball found its way to the face of an unsuspecting fan with less than two minutes left in the third quarter with George immediately walking over to the fan to apologize. The two hugged and exchanged pleasantries but the damage was done as the officials sent George to the locker room with two technical fouls.
Before that even took place, Saturday looked like an instant replay of Friday in terms of the slow start. The turnovers piled up along with the defensive miscues that are either gameplan mistakes or a matter of effort, although it’s probably more of the former than latter.
Switching on defense seems to throw them out of whack, leading to too many opportunities for other teams to exploit. The Pacers racked up 31 points and had a 17-point lead as they shot 58 percent.
“I think we do. Some guys switch who aren’t supposed to switch,” Butler said. “That’s not in the gameplan, I can tell you that. I know who’s supposed to switching and who’s not supposed to be switching.”
A bigger issue has been the lack of execution on offense, which could possibly lead to the ineffectiveness on the other end. In the first three games, the Bulls jumped on their opponents early. Now, the tables have turned and it puts the responsibility squarely on the starters.
“We do have to play better, start better,” said Dwyane Wade, who missed his first eight shots after a 35-point night Friday. “The starters have to do a better job, the onus is on us individually. Once you get down like that versus teams in this league, it’s hard. You give guys confidence and it’s a wrap.”
Wade finished with four points in 21 minutes. Butler and Bobby Portis scored 16 each, although Portis’ production came essentially in garbage time.
Butler believes he has to take more of an aggressive role to prevent the Bulls from taking the first punch. He had his hands full with George, who made all four of his shots in the first for 10 points — most of them in transition.
“It comes to me leading the charge when it comes to coming out with the right energy, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on both ends,” Butler said. “I can’t come out lackadaisical.
“I don’t think I’ve started out as aggressive as I should. I should be the most aggressive one coming out the gate. That’s what I was the first two games.”
The damage was done with the Bulls playing catch up the rest of the way, not making the Pacers sweat even when George was tossed after scoring 13. And the player who took his place on the floor continued having a banner night. CJ Miles hit a couple more triples before the end of the quarter, and hit a couple more for good measure, giving himself 20 points on the night.
Second-year center Myles Turner scored 16 and former Bull Aaron Brooks scored 10 off the bench.
“It starts with turning the ball over,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going out there and imposing your will as that ball is thrown up for the opening tip and we’re obviously capable of doing it.”
Jeff Teague had a miserable night when the two met a week ago, and he made up for it in spades, dominating his matchup with Rajon Rondo. Teague helped control the pace, as the Pacers hit 11 triples and shot over 50 percent for the entire night.
The ball movement wasn’t as prevalent as even Friday night against the Knicks, as the turnovers kept coming from everywhere and the smoothness with which the Bulls played has disappeared.
“It’s kind of what happens when you get down, it’s a will game that we play,” Wade said. “It’s the nature of us, to will it. When you’re moving the ball it becomes contagious and when you’re down early on, you wanna make the play instead of trusting the game. We’re all guilty of that, not just this team but other teams I’ve been on. The ball stops. The blueprint’s there, we just gotta get to it.”
In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Bulls committed seven turnovers and were never really competitive throughout, missing on defensive gambles and showing very little in the way of actual fundamentals.
If last Saturday was the best played game of the Fred Hoiberg era, chalk this one up amongst the look of last season as the Bulls go back to the drawing board, back at .500.