Despite the Indiana Pacers jumping out to an 18-6 lead against the Chicago Bulls, the Pacers couldn't work towards their fourth straight win without getting caught in an all-too-familiar grind it out slugfest against their Central Division foe. After their hot start, Indiana succumbed to a dry spell from the floor, getting just one point in the next five minutes, doing a terrible job at the same time of closing out second chance points, as Chicago thrived, scoring 11 in the quarter.
The Pacers maintained a close lead over Chicago at 23-20 heading into the second quarter, eventually falling behind halfway through the second as the Pacers had no answer defensively in stopping Doug McDermott, who stepped in, scoring 12 points in the second, forcing Indiana into a 39-37 hole late in the quarter. The Pacers would score eight straight to regain the lead at the break at 45-42.
One big streak of the Pacers was their play in sprints, getting enough of a push to put the Bulls in rearview, though they did struggle in the marathon portion of the game as the Bulls ground their way back into contention. Indiana jumped out hot in the third again, scoring eight straight to go up 53-42, but five possessions later the Bulls were only down a point thanks to eight from Mike Dunleavy, who hit a pair of threes.
Chicago once again took the lead late in the third at 62-61, but five big points from the Pacers gave them enough of a cushion to hold serve against a late Bulls push, including a McDermott put back at the buzzer that tied the game at 66-66 heading into the final quarter. Once there, Chicago scored two at the line to open the quarter, taking a 68-66 lead, forcing the Pacers to play from behind yet again.
The Pacers responded in a big way, scoring the next seven, holding Chicago scoreless for three minutes, taking a 73-68 lead, keeping Chicago at arm's length at 77-74 as the fourth quarter wound towards its halfway mark. While Indiana led only three at the time, the game had begun shifting in Indiana's favor, with the Bulls inching slower on the second night of their back-to-back.
C.J. Miles hit a key three to move Indiana ahead by eight on an inbounds from Rodney Stuckey with the Pacers taking an 87-76 lead with three and a half minutes remaining, the Bulls entering their fourth minute without a field goal. Chicago looked to create extra possessions by implementing a Hack-a-Ian strategy to punish Ian Mahinmi, who has been nothing short of a disaster from the free throw line this season.
The strategy worked to start, with Mahinmi missing his two free throws, but Miles came up with the offensive board to give Indiana another possession and another shot at the line for Mahinmi. In a trip that could've glued him to the bench for the rest of the game, Mahinmi drilled the next two free throws and following a Dunleavy turnovers, returned to the line to split his next trip after hitting his third straight free throw.
Indiana lead 94-80 after the Mahinmi free throws, and up 12 on the following possession got two huge offensive rebounds that would all but seal the win, as Mahinmi, unabashed, found himself at the free throw line yet again, and with a confidence not seen all season from the line, found the bottom of the net on both attempts as Indiana wrapped up a 98-84 victory thanks in large part to Mahinmi's contributions late.
Mahinmi wrapped up his night with a 14 point, 11 rebound double double, both sides well deserved and reached with his play late in the fourth quarter. Mahinmi had six of Indiana's 15 offensive boards, including a 6-10 night from the line, hitting five of his last six attempts. Without Roy Hibbert making a big contribution, it was huge for the Pacers that Mahinmi not only came through, but came up with Indiana needing the final push to put the game out of reach.
Indiana closed out the Bulls in the fourth quarter 32-18, putting themselves over 40% for the night, while holding Chicago to 36%. The Pacers were killed on second chance points early, 11 on eight offensive boards in the first quarter, but adjusted by only allowing six the rest of the game, though the escalated concern for second chance points gave Chicago crucial points when they did come up with them.
Though Indiana's bench outscored Chicago's 49-36, it felt as if Chicago's pushes came through their bench, led by Doug McDermott, who had a career best 16. McDermott was on point in his play, making a shamockery of whatever semblance of defensive abilities Damjan Rudez may or may not have. Forget Indiana's inability to come up with rebounds early, it was the play of McDermott that gave Chicago life in the second and third quarters, his own misses proving better stops than Rudez provided.
Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson had solid games, scoring 12 & 11 apiece, also dishing out nine combined assists. Watson marched to the line at will, shooting 7-9 with Stuckey and Luis Scola (who had seven points and six boards) each shooting four. The play of the bench was necessary with foul trouble haunting David West and George Hill, who still played relatively effective in shorter minutes, dishing all 11 of the starting lineup's assists, with West posting a 10 point, 10 rebound double double.
Indiana was helped by an energized Solomon Hill, who scored a team high 16 points on 5-10 shooting. For Solo, it was a not-so-common night where he took a large role in the offense, finding success when attacking the basket, but also the rare kind of night where he settled on offense, taking a couple of bad three point looks despite a 2-4 night from deep.
For the Pacers, the game was their fourth straight win, a season best, and saw them completing their four game home stand at 4-0. Indiana improved to 27-34 on the season, moving them back into the eighth seed, thanks to a loss from Miami giving them the tiebreaker. Around the East, Charlotte also won their fourth straight to remain a half game ahead of the Pacers, and a win by the Celtics and loss by the Nets moves both teams 1 1/2 games behind Indiana in 10th & 11th place.
The Pacers will have a chance to extend their winning streak in their only trip away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse before another four game home stand when they travel to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks tomorrow night. The Pacers are fresh off a second beatdown of the Knicks on the season, making tomorrow night's game a difficult task for Indiana against a New York team that will be playing to avoid a third straight blowout loss to the Pacers.