Lance Stephenson set off the explosion with 6:58 left in the fourth quarter. The Pacers trailed 69-67, Derrick Rose still sat on the bench, and the Pacers and Chicago Bulls were on a clear course for a late game nail biter. But Stephenson, 1-10 before the shot and struggling mightily throughout the night, drilled a three pointer to put the Pacers into the lead. An exasperated Stephenson was off to the races. He scored 12 points in the final seven minutes including a pair of three pointers to help push the Pacers not only into the lead, but expanded it.
Getting help from Luis Scola, the Pacers wrapped up the night on a 30-11 pummeling as the Pacers improved to 5-0 for the first time in their NBA history. It's been since October 22, 1971 since Indiana has enjoyed a 5-0 mark, but they had to go through their own struggles getting to that point. Despite a strong first quarter, the Pacers stumbled throughout the second quarter, thanks in large part to Stephenson and the second unit, as one pass and done bricks built their way towards a 12 point second quarter as the Pacers fell behind at the half.
The third quarter saw a reversal of fortune for Indiana, who jumped ahead by eight, gave up a 7-0 run in the final 42 seconds to allow Chicago to draw within two. The fourth quarter finale wasn't only highlighted by Stephenson and Scola, but by Paul George's defense down the stretch, taking Derrick Rose out of the game completely, minus a wishy-washy late whistle on a drive he made on Roy Hibbert. Rose was a force early in the game, finding his shot before missing five of his six second half shots.
He finished the game 6-15 for 17 points, five points in the second half, two assists, one rebound, and four turnovers to wrap up another slow performance. George made Rose a non-factor when the game was in Winning Time, and it capped off a bit of a poor shooting night, credit to Luol Deng and the Bulls defense, that still finished with 21 points and six rebounds.
Stephenson was the real story of the night. His play in the first half was dreadful at best, his decision making was poor and didn't appear to be in sync with the game at all. When a second half three rattled out, it just didn't seem to be Stephenson's night. But when he started feeling some positive vibes in his game, it turned the entire night around for not only him, but the team as a whole. He shot just 5-17 from the field, but he completely turned his plus minus around, going from the only starter in a negative number to +20 thanks to the fourth quarter run.
Scola was Stephenson's running mate in the fourth quarter run, forcing turnovers with two steals, and scoring a season high 12 points on 6-8 shooting. He was spot on with his jumper and helped infuse Bankers Life Fieldhouse with just the energy it needed to push Stephenson over the top for the win. The bench as a whole was a bit on and off. The second quarter showcase from the bench was awful. They didn't appear to have any cohesion, zero ball movement, and it played directly into Chicago's hands.
Donald Sloan was one of just three bench players to reach the scoreboard, but did have a season high of nine, hitting shots with consistency and came up with six rebounds and four assists. C.J. Watson started his third game and his foul trouble again opened the door for Sloan to play strong. Watson had a solid game himself, forcing Rose into early foul trouble himself, and being one of five Pacers in double figures with 11 and four assists.
David West had his best game of the young season, looking confident with his jumper, grabbing a 17 point, 13 rebound double double. West also led the game in steals, as the Pacers finally won the turnover battle, committing just six in the second half while forcing 18 turnovers. The Pacers also made up for an early free throw disparity by capitalizing on those turnovers, outscoring Chicago 29-8 in points off turnovers.
Roy Hibbert left some easy shots short that looked like they might come back and haunt the Pacers, but he was a defensive force again tonight, with five blocks to his name. Hibbert also grabbed 10 rebounds, doing a solid job limiting Chicago's front line throughout the night. Hibbert had some extra run thanks to Ian Mahinmi leaving the game with a sprained ankle late in the third quarter. Mahinmi had a rough game, showing night and day the difference in respect between the two centers as Mahinmi couldn't get through a play without a foul going against him.
The Pacers jumped above 40% for the night after the second quarter sunk their shooting, but they also held the Bulls to just 35.6% on the night for 80 points. The Pacers have allowed just 37.5% shooting on the young season for just 84.4 points, setting the tone as the league's premiere defensive team. While a 5-0 record in the grand scheme of the 82 game schedule means very little, there's tons to be excited about in the way the Pacers are playing. The win not only keeps Indiana perfect, but drops Chicago to 1-3 (0-3 on the road) and gives them an early 3.5 game cushion over the Bulls.
So, sure, there's long road ahead, but if Indiana hopes to make themselves the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, beating a team you expect to be there at the end at home at any point is a key victory. The Pacers have a day off before heading off to another back-to-back, starting off at home against the Toronto Raptors, with a chance to say what's up to Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin and the up and down Raptors. A win on Friday would push the Pacers to 6-0, tying them for the best start in franchise history, but there are still 48 minutes between that feat that won't be easy to reach.