The Indiana Pacers used dominate stretches in the second and third quarters to outscore the Chicago Bulls 56-39 en route to a 91-79 win, one that finally showcased the Pacers closer to their early season success than their recent malaise. It was Indiana's first win over a winning team since February 7th, but more importantly, their first truly positive outing against a playoff caliber team since their back-to-back wins over the Clippers and Warriors back in January.
Indiana did continue struggling with turnovers, especially in the first quarter, with five turnovers leading to eight Chicago points. The turnovers helped prop up the Bulls offense for much of the first quarter as they used five straight points to close the quarter up 23-19. Indiana opened up in the second quarter, using an 8-0 run fueled by Luis Scola to jump ahead 27-23.
The bench was incredibly active in the second quarter, with the five man rotation of Scola, Evan Turner, Donald Sloan, Chris Copeland, and Ian Mahinmi playing incredibly good team defense and keeping Chicago off of the scoreboard from the field, as the Bulls didn't hit a field goal until the 7:16 mark in the quarter. Indiana would push their lead to 42-35 thanks to Scola and Copeland baskets, but they were set up well thanks to great teamwork from Turner and Sloan, who helped assist on seven straight baskets in the quarter.
The Bulls would close the half strong on an 8-2 run to trim Indiana's seven point lead to a point, scoring the first basket of the second half to jump ahead 45-44. With the bench lifting Indiana in the second quarter, it was the starters who put Indiana in control of the game as Lance Stephenson led a 19-0 run for the Pacers to open the game up, giving Indiana a 63-45 advantage.
Stephenson had 13 of his 15 points in the third quarter, with nine during the run, as the Pacers defense stood strong against the faltering Chicago offense. Chicago made a push into the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to eight at 77-69 with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter. But it was Scola who lifted Indiana yet again, scoring Indiana's next seven points.
Scola ran off a 7-0 run on his own as the Pacers moved up 84-71, with Chicago being held scoreless for four minutes. A pair of three pointers for Chicago in the final 70 seconds of the game helped end their field goal drought and draw them to a semi-respectable 12-point loss, but the Pacers did a tremendous job after the first quarter of simply beating the Chicago Bulls.
It was a performance the Pacers have been in need of for some time and it might be a cure all for their recent struggles, but it's at least something to finally build on, something more than just a eked out win against a lottery bound opponent (or worse yet, their losses to lottery bound opponents). The Pacers offense shot just 43%, but thanks to a decisive rebounding edge (51-36), including 13 offensive rebounds and a steady 21-25 free throw shooting, it was more than enough to support a much improved defensive effort.
The Pacers really showcased better overall teamwork when it came to ball movement and setting guys up for easy buckets. The Pacers assisted on 27 of their 34 field goals, and while they did have 16 turnovers which led to 20 Chicago points, it was far better to see them looking for better shots than to force themselves into bad misses. Luis Scola benefited the most from the team's movement, getting superb looks all night as part of his season high 19 points on 9-12 shooting.
Scola helped a tremendous bench effort, with the second unit scoring 34 points on the night, including six points and seven assists from Evan Turner, five points and two blocks from Chris Copeland, and a 4-4 night from the free throw line for Ian Mahinmi. Donald Sloan went scoreless, but had four rebounds and two assists in his 12 minutes of action. Their high energy not only turned the game in Indiana's favor in the second quarter, but helped minimize the effectiveness of Chicago's bench despite 17 from D.J. Augustin.
All five starters reached double figures, led by Lance Stephenson with 15 points. His 13 third quarter points were a huge boost, but it helped cover up a poor taunting technical after Indiana had pushed the lead to 18, giving the Bulls a glimpse of points for the first time in over four minutes, but he was the only starter to not notch an assist, while turning it over four times. Stephenson gave as much as he gave away tonight, but his 7-11 shooting was a welcome sign as the only starter above 50%.
Poor shooting nights plagued George Hill and Paul George especially, with Hill struggling to find the bottom of the net all night, but did manage to get into double figures with 10 points thanks to a 4-4 free throw night. Paul George picked up a triple-double despite a woeful 3-13 shooting night, coming up with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Three rebounds came on the offensive end and he picked up a steal as well. It has felt like a while since George has made a positive impact on Indiana's success despite not shooting the ball well. Despite his poor shooting, there was very little forced looks from George, which have been something of a norm in recent games.
Roy Hibbert played exceptionally not only the defensive end, but was a huge boost in his hustle, tracking down 11 rebounds on the night, five offensive, as he picked up a 12 point, 11 rebound double double. He was credited with four blocks, which helped him against Joakim Noah, who had a 12 point, 13 rebound double double of his own. David West was quiet with 10 points and six rebounds, but his two shots in Indiana's 19-0 run were as important as any in the game.
All in all, it was a really impressive performance by the Pacers, who have been in search of this kind of effort. Scola dismissed the weight of tonight's win being a fix all solution, what with Indiana's back-to-back tip tomorrow night in Memphis against the hard nosed Grizzlies, who slipped in the final minutes in a loss to the Heat. Scola told Candace Buckner that it was just a single win and that one win doesn't erase their recent lack of work, but it remains a key point to look at if Indiana can follow this up with a similar performance against Memphis.
Though, it's important to remember that their performances during back-to-backs suggest tomorrow will make this one of the toughest games remaining on Indiana's schedule; their final road back-to-back of the season against another defensive oriented opponent that's fought their way into the playoff picture of the Western Conference and are holding onto the eight spot by a game after their loss tonight.