All the recipes for disaster were present for a fat and full post-Thanksgiving performance for the Chicago Bulls, especially against a red-hot Indiana Pacers team hell-bent on revenge from a last-second loss last week in Chicago.
Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose struggled throughout, they gave the ball away as if it were bad turkey being passed around the family table and their inside advantage was nowhere to be found.
The Bulls showed some fight in terms of effort, but the cohesiveness wasn’t to be had - at least not consistently - as they fell 104-92 at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.
“We couldn’t get anything going on either end of the court,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Coming out of the game, we turned the ball over, I think, nine times in the first quarter.”
As for the Bulls’ supposed advantage on the interior playing a smaller, quicker bunch, this statement from Hoiberg was a mouthful:
“We allowed them too many second chance opportunities,” he said. But he wasn’t referring to the eight offensive rebounds, per se. The 15 turnovers leading to a 21-5 edge in fast break scoring has a way of making a coach look at uncontested layups as second-chance.
“It wasn’t very good tonight, that’s what we stressed going into this game, was getting back (on defense),” Hoiberg said. “The turnovers fueled a lot of those transition points.”
Paul George repeatedly attacked Butler in a way he didn’t in their last meeting, when Butler blocked a 15-footer with seconds remaining that could’ve won it for the Pacers.
And George attacked virtually everybody else who stood in his way as well. He didn’t get 40 as he did a few nights ago but he hit timely shots, especially after Rose, Butler and Kirk Hinrich found their footing with triples early in the fourth, at one point cutting the lead to 76-69 with 10:17 remaining.
“We got to the line four times in a row but we gotta execute when it’s big plays when we have the momentum and make it go our way,” Rose said.
They didn’t execute, as Rose shot 4-of-16 and Butler made 4-of-10 shots from the field, and George made them pay.
George finished with 33 points and eight rebounds, continuing his resurgent play after missing nearly all of last season with a foot injury while the Bulls looked like their footing was stuck in the turkey dressing.
Shooting 34 percent, getting very few offensive rebounds and not creating anything easy was not the kind of night the Bulls fans who made the trek to Indy hoped to see.
“We just got outplayed in all aspects of the game. That’s it,” Butler said. “Can’t blame it on anything else. The easy buckets they got. We weren’t guarding. We started bad from the jump and it stayed that way.”
It’s hard to win, if not impossible under such circumstances. At one point, Tony Snell had the same amount of baskets (two) early in the second half as Rose and Butler combined.
Yes, that Tony Snell.
Nikola Mirotic was the only Bull in double figures through three quarters, scoring 23 of his 25 points to momentarily break out of his slump but the Bulls shot just 31 percent through 36 minutes, but surprisingly were within nine.
However, once George hit a corner triple to give the Pacers a 92-78 lead with 5:08, it was all she wrote. The Bulls resorted to fouling Pacers big man Ian Mahinmi, a 21-percent free throw shooter, intentionally in the attempt to cut into the lead.
It only proved to be a temporarily elixir, because offensive execution was elusive and the turnovers came in second and third helpings, negating a hard-played game.
Taking plenty of jump shots, the Bulls are again showing a level of discomfort with this new offensive system, leaving one to wonder how much longer it will take before Hoiberg’s patience runs thin.
“It’s up and down, to tell you the truth,” said Butler of the team’s offense. “Our execution, sometimes it’s piss poor, other times it’s really good. It depends on the night.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
The only positive was that it wasn’t a complete shellacking because it sure looked like the Bulls deserved it.
“It just happens some nights. Should it? No. But it happens some nights,” Butler said.
But after taking an early punch buoyed by their nine first-half turnovers leading to 16 Pacers points, they methodically crawled back in it after a 17-point deficit. C.J. Miles took advantage of his matchup with Mirotic early, hitting three triples, including a four-point play that gave the Pacers 39-24 lead.
It was followed by George Hill’s short jumper to give them their widest margin and the Bulls played from behind all night, something they didn’t have to do out west.