Indiana Pacers

Kris Dunn's Jekyll and Hyde performances continue in Bulls' ugly loss to Pacers

Kris Dunn's Jekyll and Hyde performances continue in Bulls' ugly loss to Pacers

For most of Wednesday night Kris Dunn looked like everything the Bulls wanted in a point guard of the future. He was attacking the basket, finding open shooters (who were knocking those shots down) and playing his usual aggressive style of defense.

He was the catalyst for a Bulls team that looked ready to end their nine-game winning streak in impressive fashion, going wire-to-wire with a Pacers team that entered the night 7-4 at home.

But for as well as Dunn performed - finishing with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists - what Bulls fans will remember is his inability to close the game in an eventual 98-96 loss.

With the Bulls leading by four with 1:48 to go, Dunn missed badly on a floater, grabbed his own rebound and promptly turned the ball over. That led to a Pacers jumper from Corey Joseph, and Victor Oladipo drained a 3-pointer after Denzel Valentine dribbled the ball over to the Pacers' swingman the previous trip down. Out of a timeout Dunn got stiffed by Oladipo and had to settle for a contest 20-footer from the left wing. That shot missed, and Oladipo hit 1 of 2 free throws.

With a chance to win the game Dunn couldn't initiate the Bulls into any semblance of a set and had to settle for a wild Lauri Markkanen 3, which clanged off the backboard and sent the Bulls to a 10th straight loss.

The two misses and turnover both hurt from Dunn directly, but Valentine's turnover and Markkanen's missed shot can also be attributed to him. Dunn has proven capable of running the offense - he did it superbly for most of the game - but wasn't there down the stretch to make a play or set up a play to help the Bulls close it out.

It washed away a really solid performance from Dunn, who actually stopped a 7-0 run just before that ugly sequence with a drive and layup to push the Bulls back out in front, 96-92.

Dunn scored or assisted on 20 of the Bulls' first 25 points, and he scored eight points in the third quarter to keep the Pacers at bay. He played 34 minutes and half his shots came in the paint (plus three free throws). He was aggressive (one of his turnovers was a charge in the paint) and kept pace with the 9th-fastest offense in the league.

But he couldn't close things for the Bulls when they needed a ball handler and a decision maker. Perhaps it'll be a good lesson for Dunn, who continues to show growth in Year 2. He's averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists over his last five games, shooting 55 percent from the field and 64 percent from deep (9-for-14). There's more good than bad for Dunn this year. Unfortunately we'll remember the bad on Wednesday.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

- Denzel Valentine was outstanding in the first half. He finished cold from the field (5 of 13) but really gave the Bulls a spark before halftime. He passed well (three assists) and made an effort to crash the boards, which then initiated the offense. He's not great at any one thing, but he really does contribute in multiple areas.

- For all Valentine did in the first half, it was David Nwaba's show in the second half. The rust from sitting out multiple weeks is clearly gone, as he finished with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, three rebounds, a steal and a block in 22 minutes. He actually played the most of any Bulls reserve, and even saw first quarter minutes. But he went to work in the second half, and he scored a pair of buckets and added a block and steal in a 3-minute span in the fourth quarter. He'll continue to get minutes.

- The Bulls had five assists in the first 7 minutes of the game, and just 11 more in the final 41 minutes. For whatever reason, ball movement stopped and it really hurt in the second half when shots weren't falling. Again, this can fall on Dunn, although he was attacking and taking what the Indiana defense gave him.

- As Insider Vincent Goodwill noted, Lauri Markkanen seemed to have tired legs tonight. Perhaps it was having to guard the ever-active Thaddeus Young, but his shot looked short almost as soon as it left his hand (1-for-6 from deep) and he wasn't all that physical. He also had three turnovers after just four combined in his last five games. He'll surely bounce back against the Hornets on Friday.

No comeback this time but Bobby Portis strikes again in Bulls' loss to Pacers

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USA TODAY

No comeback this time but Bobby Portis strikes again in Bulls' loss to Pacers

The Return, Game 2: Bobby Portis said his suspension made him grateful to keep playing the game he loves.

He’s continuing to show it, playing with fervor in his first game in front of the Bulls fans since his incident with Nikola Mirotic. Scoring 20 points in 25 minutes with 11 rebounds, he continued to battle inside even as he wasn’t very effective early, working himself into a good night.

“I’m getting better each and every day,” Portis said. “I’ve always been confident but I’m at the top of my game right now with my confidence level. I’ve gotten better at taking the good shot and not every shot.”

The Bulls started to use he and Lauri Markkanen together again in the fourth quarter, similar to when they provided spacing in their comeback in Toronto. Markkanen shot just 2-for-9 from 3-point range, perhaps showing some effects from the tendinitis that kept him out of practice Wednesday.

With 43 points in his first two games, it’s the best two-game stretch of his career—all things considered. He had back-to-back 16-point games his rookie year against the Pacers and Knicks, but consistent playing time and production has been fleeting.

“Knowing I’m gonna play, I can get comfortable,” Portis said. “Knowing the coaches trust in my abilities, knowing they trust in me shooting the ball, that’s a plus also.”

He’s had to play behind proven veterans in Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in his first two seasons.

“It’s always frustration, man,” he said with a laugh. “It’s always tough not being able to play and having to sit and wait your turn. It was a blessing in disguise, it’s helped me tremendously.”

Especially with Zach LaVine still weeks away from stepping on the floor and the Bulls being the only team in the Eastern Conference averaging fewer than 100 points (93.6), somebody has to score.

Why not Portis?

“I don’t know why anybody is surprised. I’ve always went hard my whole life,” Portis said. “I’ve always tried to bring my best effort. If anything, I’m gonna play hard. Me scoring 20 points is probably not gonna be a regular thing but at the same time I know my role on this team. Bring energy and effort every day. If the shots are there I’ll take them.”

No rah-rah comeback here: In Toronto, Hoiberg ripped into his team at halftime and it resulted in a resounding comeback, with the Bulls nearly pulling off an upset from down 23 points.

That kind of effort was nowhere to be found on Friday night, the first of a back-to-back set that concludes in San Antonio Saturday night.

“You could see in our guys’ faces, it was gonna be a long night,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t have that fight to us, that suck it up, find a way to make a play for your teammates, we didn’t have it.”

Denzel Valentine started 1-for-10 after two encouraging performances. Kris Dunn’s maddening turnovers continued, especially the ones of the unforced variety where he’s either overthinking or not thinking at all.

He scored 16 and looked confident and competent while driving to the basket, evidenced by his baseline drive and dunk on an unsuspecting defense in the first half.

“He makes plays that gets you really excited, some high flying dunks, then he has a couple really careless turnovers,” Hoiberg said. “He’s shown flashes of being an excellent basketball player but we gotta get rid of those careless turnovers.”

But when it comes to running an offense, he’s still very much a work in progress—where patience is probably the best attribute when evaluating him.

It was also a game to forget for Bulls centers Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio. Felicio continued to struggle, as his usual activity has turned to regression. Lopez, on the other hand, had been a model of consistency until this point.

He’ll probably ask for a mulligan after start 0-for-6 and scoring just two points.

Oladip-OH!: Victor Oladipo was doing more than enjoying his newfound freedom after being traded from Oklahoma City to the Pacers in the Paul George deal; he was bathing in it. His steal and uncontested 360 dunk midway through the third quarter put the Pacers up 20 and gave him 21 points, on his way to 25, six assists and six rebounds.

It wasn’t that easy all night but it felt like that for the Pacers as they shot 51 percent and 41 from 3-point range. They didn’t make a free throw until well into the third quarter because the Bulls defense was that slow in getting back in transition.

“The very first drill we did in our training camp…defensive transition drill,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talked about our rules in transition. It completely went out the window tonight.

“They scored 20 in transition. It seemed like 50.”

He lived in the Bulls paint, being a step quicker and playing with more fervor than anyone wearing Bulls red. It almost made you wonder why the Thunder couldn’t make it work between him and Russell Westbrook, given he was so active with the ball and refused to settle for jumpers.

It also put an end to the assertion that the Pacers got fleeced in the George deal, as they at least have building blocks in Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, who came off the bench to score eight with nine rebounds.

Bojan Bogdanovic torched the Bulls for six triples in 33 minutes, scoring 22 with seven rebounds. Oladipo’s penetration repeatedly compromised the Bulls defense and the threat of it left shooters open to the tune of 12 triples while the Bulls made just 7 of 26.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Pacers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against Pacers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the Indiana Pacers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Slowing down a dynamic Pacers offense: The Bulls have already faced some of the league's best offenses this season in the Cavaliers, Raptors and Magic (yes, the Magic. For real). They'll face another impressive unit in Indiana, who touts the league's seventh most efficient offense. Expected to take a major step back after losing Paul George, the ball movement has been better (9th in assist ratio), they're taking care of the rock (3rd in turnover percentage) and they're making shots (7th in effective field goal percentage). The Bulls defense will have its hands full against the likes of Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and Darren Collison.

2. Victor Oladipo: It's a shame Zach LaVine isn't healthy because this would have been a fantastic matchup of athletic wings. Since LaVine is still working his way back from knee surgery we'll just have to marvel at Oladipo, who is enjoying a bounce back season after being dealt in the Paul George deal. In his first season with the Pacers he's averaging 22.8 pooints on 46 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. With Myles Turner having battled a concussion earlier in the year Oladipo is the main reason the Pacers, expected to be one of the league's worst teams, boasts a surprising 5-7 record.

3. Myles Turner is the real deal: He's only played five games because of the aforementioned concussion, but Myles Turner is the best young player the casual NBA fan hasn't heard of. In those five games he's averaging a modest 15.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 28.7 minutes. But don't let those numbers confuse you; Turner is a budding superstar and while he may not get to the same level of a Giannis or Kristaps, he's going to be the face of the Pacers franchise for the next decade. He's still just 21 years old. Robin Lopez will have his hands full.