In many ways, this was the Indiana Pacers' best presesaon effort to date. Highlighted by a 16-0 run early in the game, the Pacers' starters were keyed in their first half play, going up double digits on the Chicago Bulls. They were well in sync on both sides of the floor. Unfortunately, the Pacers slipped into familiar territory with a sluggish third quarter that put the Bulls back in position to take the game at the end with missed free throws and foul trouble mounting for the blue and gold as Derrick Rose simply had to look at the basket and get to the free throw line.
It was one of those types of games for Rose, who had 13 attempts at the line, but both teams had ample opportunities to make statements at the free throw line. A fairly absurd 60 fouls were called in tonight's game with 76 free throws between the two teams. The Pacers, had a stretch late in the final quarter in a tied game where they missed five of their six free throw attempts. It's not a coincidence Indiana wound up falling in five, but they missed 12 on the night, shooting 23-35.
Besides some defensive lapses from C.J. Watson, some struggles getting the ball inside in the second half, and misfortune in regards to foul distribution, the team played exceptionally well. The Pacers assisted on 21 of their 34 field goals, led by Lance Stephenson, who dished out eight as part of his 11 points, seven rebound, and eight assist night. Stephenson was a wild card, coming through when attacking the basket, but some erratic passes were part of his total, giving him three turnovers.
Paul George was left out in the cold in regard to foul trouble, being hampered by most of the second half, unable to cover Derrick Rose due to the foul issues, but was sharp and on point when he was on the floor, scoring 22 points on 8-15 shooting, showcasing lethal demeanor in his midrange game. Danny Granger had a superb night with three three pointers highlighting his 11 point night before Granger would re-aggravate his strained calf. Aside from some lingering turnover issues with George, the pair playing the level they did as starters was incredibly encouraging. It's easy to see what advantages the two have when they can play together with Granger spreading the floor, and tonight at least, hitting the looks he's given.
David West had 17 on 6-12 shooting, but was a key part in Indiana's late free throw woes, missing three of his four attempts down the stretch. Roy Hibbert had 18 himself, playing big in Joakim Noah's absence. There was some concern for guys off the bench not lifting the Pacers in the scoring category. Stephenson's 11 was nice in the sense that he can offer up a double figure effort on a lot of nights if he leads the bench. But Luis Scola had just five on 1-5 shooting, Watson scored just a single point.
Ian Mahinmi did play a much better game tonight, keeping balls alive and creating second chance opportunities as part of his five point, six rebound night. It was refreshing to see a more active Mahinmi to help the bench. All in all, the Pacers had a solid night and it's a shame they weren't able to wrap up their first preseason win as a result. But the Bulls are a good team, especially when they can sink in nine three point attempts and make their presence felt on offense.
But it remains a wasted opportunity for Indiana; some in their control, some not. But there was enough tonight to show that they're still going to be a handful against most teams. They'll have to execute better late against top tier teams, but this is a problem that's haunted the Pacers for quite some time now and it "being preseason" doesn't change that. It'll be key to see whether the Pacers can improve on this with another year together under their belt.
At any rate, they'll move onto Cleveland for their next preseason outing against the Cavaliers tomorrow night. With the Pacers Fan Jam coming up on Sunday afternoon, we'll see how much Frank Vogel will run his players against the Cavs.