Pacers continue to struggle in close games, fall to Bulls

USA TODAY Sports

Indiana lost 87-84, lumbering down the stretch offensively against Chicago.

This was one of those nights the Pacers could've used David West to help them out. The rock solid power forward hasn't been missed as much with Tyler Hansbrough playing well and the Indiana Pacers winning comfortably, but with just 10 fourth quarter points in the first 10 and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, unable to make up any ground on the Chicago Bulls until it was too late, his presence alone could've helped Indiana to potentially avoid another close loss in a long stretch of close losses.

In fact, the Pacers had done well through the first three quarters in holding off every Bulls push, but a Daequan Cook layup at the buzzer gave Chicago a 68-67 lead they wouldn't give up at any point in the fourth quarter. Indiana had very little going with the momentum all in Chicago's favor early in the fourth quarter when the bench couldn't provide any way to punch back. The defense all night seemed a step slow and Chicago had that extra step on 50/50 balls and rebounds. The game was fairly clean in terms of turnovers, but Indiana didn't make the extra hustle plays, and couldn't keep Chicago from scoring in the paint, allowing 42 on the night.

A big swing in Chicago's favor is a rare one with David West on the team: Indiana had to contend with a solid night from Carlos Boozer, who seemed to have little trouble taking it to Tyler Hansbrough, who had his worst game as a start, scoring seven points and grabbing six boards. Without a reliable scoring option down to settle Indiana down, the team faltered. With the bench getting outscored 32-15, it was too much to overcome despite the other four starters reaching double figures.

Paul George led the Pacers with 23 tonight, grabbing 11 rebounds for a double double on the night. He had a solid night despite some foul troubles, but wasn't given the extra support Luol Deng was in his own 20-point night. Roy Hibbert did provide ample play on an 18 & 12 double double of his own. Lance Stephenson had a nice showing to hopefully bring him out of his slump with 11 points. George Hill scored the team's final seven points down the stretch, but was mostly quiet, finishing with 10 points.

The Bulls got help from numerous areas. While Deng and Boozer led the charge, the Pacers had no answer for Daequan Cook, and Nate Robinson provided enough of a punch off the bench before being ejected for throwing Stephenson to the floor on a Flagrant 2 foul. But Chicago did plenty of damage up front. Not only with Boozer, but Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson each reached double figures. As a result, Chicago had just enough in the tank despite being short Joakim Noah to pull out the win, avoiding being swept by Indiana for the first time since 2002.

The loss drops Indiana to third in the East with New York winning handily against Toronto, and another tough game against Atlanta on Monday without West will be a test for the bench and Hansbrough to get back on track to avoid another loss. Indiana does need to start figuring out a way to win close games, but with the second seed in the East still very much up for grabs, any win is important regardless of the margin of victory.

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