The Indiana Pacers got just enough tonight to seal a closer-than-it-should've-been victory, but this team has certainly specialized in winning ugly, adding another to their resume against the Chicago Bulls tonight. Despite something of a nice looking box score, with Indiana's 46.5% shooting and rebounding, steal, and free throw advantages, it was something of a sluggish effort overall, late game heroics becoming relevant for the team to move to 3-0 on the season against the Bulls.
Indiana appeared to be on track for a nice, solid performance after the first quarter, scoring 32 points and leading by as many as 13, but Chicago's defense turned the game around, as the Bulls began to slowly and steadily chip away at the lead as Indiana's offense, especially within the second unit, was non-existent for stretches. Indiana appeared to be a step slow defensively, towards loose balls, and lacked the sharpness necessary to attack a focused Chicago defense, but the resiliency of David West and George Hill, with supporting help from Roy Hibbert and some key defensive stops, kept the Pacers from ever falling behind despite Chicago's relentlessness.
Paul George opened the fourth quarter with a three, his only three points outside of the first quarter, the other 25 were all scored by West, Hill, and Hibbert. George Hill was a perfect 6-6 from the floor tonight for 21 points to go with six boards and five assists. When Indiana was in need of points, Hill was there, scoring 11 in the final period. The only real concern in Hill's performance tonight was his activity at the line late, missing three of his four attempts in the final minute, going just 4-8 from the line in the final period.
It'd be a bigger issue if not for the superb defensive efforts in the final minute, Indiana forcing two Chicago turnovers to help ice the game. David West wasn't perfect from the floor, but it's hard to remember any of his misses from his 11-18 night. Well, that is except for his missed shot in the game's final minute, a miss he rebounded and laid in for two. West joined Hill in double figures in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his game high 31 in the fourth quarter. Indiana may have shot over 46% tonight, but on the backs of Hill and West, who combined for 70.8% shooting, it helps to even out an otherwise dismal night from just about everyone else on the floor.
Roy Hibbert did have a fantastic night, however, attacking Joakim Noah head on for 18 points and 10 rebounds, including three blocks. In the middle of the Hill & West fourth quarter, it was back to back Hibbert buckets that kept Chicago from having opportunities to go into the lead. Paul George had seven first quarter points, but struggled shooting the rest of the night, also continued to struggle with ball control, committing four more turnovers tonight, most of the "this should be avoided" variety. George did have 10 rebounds and six assists, however, though was mostly just so-so on the defensive end, picking up a couple of steals.
Lance Stephenson had some spectacular moves early, but was largely taken out of the game as it progressed, scoring nine on 3-10 shooting. He did get seven rebounds, and his nine was more than the entire bench accounted for, in another poor second unit effort that began Indiana's offensive struggles in the second half. Danny Granger played just eight minutes in the first half, sitting out the second half due to his knee, hoping that it's nothing that will linger, but the bench had just eight points on 2-9 shooting, two rebounds, and three assists.
This resulted in Frank going to heavy starter minutes, including 45 minutes for George. The hope was that Granger (or maybe Stephenson) would help bolster the bench, and to some degree he has, but in the past four games, the bench sans Granger has averaged a total of 9.8 points per game. While there are some excuses you can come up with in the past week; the unit not being familiar with Granger, Ian Mahinmi starting a game, Orlando Johnson losing touches because of Granger, D.J. Augustin playing like D.J. Augustin, there has to be room for concern when talking about a second unit that has been mostly bad for the entire season regressing back from bright moments they have come up with.
Indiana's starting unit is the most successful five-man unit in the NBA, but it can't be expected to carry the load for 48 minutes every single night. Roy Hibbert's absence against the Clippers really showed how reliant Indiana has been on their starters, even one who's struggled offensively like Hibbert. The starting lineup reliance worked just well enough tonight to claw out an ugly win, but things will get a lot uglier without more bench help, and it's hard to tell where it will be able to come from if it's not coming from Granger.
On a brighter note, the win not only puts Indiana up 3-0 on Chicago in the regular season, gives them a four game lead in the Central Division. The Pacers will have a couple of days off to hopefully get a better all around showing ready against the Boston Celtics at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday. As playoff seeding becomes more clear, the second seeded Pacers could very well be looking directly at a matchup with Boston, a series most Eastern Conference teams would like to avoid for fear of a one-last-hurrah go around for the injury-riddled Celtics.