The 7-0 start by the Indiana Pacers on 3-5 shooting was in fact from tonight's game, though the following 45 minutes of action would do a good job of refuting that, with the Pacers stumbling to another sub 40% shooting performance on a night they could only hope the Chicago Bulls would come back to them instead of having a chance to stage an offensive comeback.
Though Indiana's offense disappeared quickly, Chicago didn't exactly have much on their end to throw at the Pacers in the first quarter, with Indiana using a 6-0 run to take a six point lead before Taj Gibson throw in a dunk at the buzzer to trim Indiana's lead to four. Points continued to come at a premium into the second quarter, but Gibson's play was a huge boost for the Bulls, who jumped 33-31 as George Hill put in a three with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Pacers the 34-33 advantage at the break.
In the third quarter last Friday, the Pacers used a 19-0 run to plant themselves firmly in control of the game against Chicago, and the Bulls did the same thing to Indiana, running off a 12-0 run to go up 47-37. The Pacers would spend the rest of the game fighting back from the near double figure deficit. They had numerous opportunities, but timely shots by Gibson and Kirk Hinrich continued to keep Chicago in the driver's seat.
Indiana, trailing 55-43, got six straight points from Lance Stephenson to cut the lead in half, but Paul George on the ensuing steal would play for the foul against Hinrich, with Hinrich being credited for a foul. Chicago going the other way, got two points on a Gibson put back with David West getting pushed out of bounds. Those types of swings would go on to define the next 16 minutes of action, the Pacers coming close enough to keep it a game, but never having enough on either end to make it one.
The Pacers would end up dropping the game 89-77, their second straight game under 80, with the offense betraying the defense for most of the night. Indiana shot 37%, which proved a bad combination for their turnovers (16, leading to 14 Bulls points) and allowing nine offensive rebounds (five to Gibson), which gave Chicago an extra 11 shot attempts. The Bulls were at 41.7%, but that proved plenty given the extra attempts.
Indiana's offense was an absolute mess the entire night. It's not a real surprise the Pacers came up short against the league's best defensive teams, but the way they've stumbled to 148 points over two games is incredibly problematic, especially when the team's lack of ball movement stuck them with just 11 assists on just 27 made baskets.
They showed no consistent ability to get the ball inside, and more often than not, they whiffed when the opportunities showed themselves in the paint. Roy Hibbert, after a solid game against these same Bulls on Friday, was an absolute liability on the offensive end, shooting 0-5 from the floor for three points, corralling just five rebounds on the night. Hibbert's foul trouble limited his minutes overall, but he was never a part of the offense and it was a big part of Indiana's struggles offensively.
It didn't help that Ian Mahinmi is still a lackluster offensive player, though his three points on 1-1 shooting still wasn't a step back from Hibbert's production on the night. The bench as a whole offered up very little offensively, scoring just 14 points total, even after the bench clearing. The five man bench rotation shot just 5-13, with Evan Turner and Luis Scola each stumbling to 1-4 shooting nights, though Turner can a least boast his came on a three point play.
George Hill was the best player on the floor for the Pacers, as the only player to shoot over 50% on the night, at 6-10 with a pair of first half threes as part of his 17 points. He also notched in four assists, but besides calling his own number on the Vogel Weave to end the first half, he still wasn't made a big part of the offense, which is a shame given how much any sort of consistency would be welcome.
Hill's four assists were matched by David West, giving two players nearly 90% of Indiana's assist numbers. While the Pacers missed their fair share of potential looks, the team simply didn't get it done against Chicago's defense when it came to moving the ball. Paul George and Lance Stephenson rebounded the ball well with 19 between the two of them, but had just one assist.
George had 22 points to lead the Pacers, but it came on 8-22 shooting, with plenty of hero looks going right and wrong. I haven't really been as bothered by George's official complaining as some, but it does become a huge problem when he continues to play for the foul rather than play through for a basket. The officials weren't in the mood to bail out George on the night, with him getting just four free throw attempts on the night.
Stephenson was just 3-9, but as usual, found some success when heading towards the basket. He's become horribly turnover prone, with four more on the night. While George's shooting numbers have brought the Pacers offense back from their early season success, so too has Stephenson's complete lack of playmaking in recent games. Stephenson entered the break with 5.1 assists to 2.8 turnovers, but in the last nine games is averaging just 2.3 assists with 3.2 turnovers.
Without any sort of playmaker, the Pacers offense has no shot of consistently winning games despite their defense playing well enough to come away with wins, especially on nights when their most consistent offensive weapon, David West, has an off shooting night. West had 14 points, but was just 4-12 from the floor. Indiana's defense has held their last five opponents at 92 points or less, but the Pacers are just 2-3 in this stretch despite being 33-1 heading into these games when allowing 92 or less.
It's a bad time for the Pacers offense to take a dive with the Miami Heat coming to Indianapolis on Wednesday. The Heat held off a late Portland surge to win tonight and move to within two games of Indiana, who drops to 51-20 on the year. While Miami isn't quite the defensive team Memphis and Chicago are, they did a great job limiting Portland's success tonight, holding them to 91 points points on 38% shooting.
Any good will the Pacers may have built up against Chicago on Friday has been decimated in their last two outings despite a more encouraging overall performance tonight than Saturday. The Pacers will have to continue searching for their offensive identity in the regular season's final 11 games and their playoff seeding still very much in the air.