A back and forth game between the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls looked atypical in the first half, with both teams scoring at will. Chicago led 60-58 at the break, fueled by Nikola Mirotic and his three point barrage, though Indiana did manage to draw the game to within two thanks to an 8-0 run to close the half.
The game took on a much more familiar look in the second half, with physical play and defense tightening things up. Ultimately the victory came down to the team that made the fewest miscues down the stretch, which happened to go to the Bulls, as Jimmy Butler had just 14, but drilled the game winner over a clueless Pacers defense.
Both teams were able to build leads, but neither were able to hold them, and an ugly, turnover fueled fourth quarter favored Chicago by the slight margin of 14-12. For the Pacers, there's really nothing to say that hasn't been said. They've had this exact same result on replay all season, with a C.J. Miles game winning three going wide left resigning the Pacers to the 8th seed, just two games clear of these Bulls.
Indiana had every chance to bury Chicago tonight, and having lost four consecutive, playing on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, had no reason to stop them. Yet, the Bulls are still alive, the Pacers are the Pacers, and all the fake outrage and acts of concern for their situation doesn't change the fact that Chicago has a Jimmy Butler and the Pacers don't.
Somehow the Pacers lost a game in which they outscored Chicago 22-6 in points off turnovers, but in the second half the Pacers did have nine, which all piled up against Indiana in a game where possessions became increasingly valuable. Chicago also outshot Indiana 10-3 in three pointers, seven of those alone coming from Mirotic.
Paul George led the Pacers with 20, but had the defensive awareness of James Harden tonight, allowing Butler to thrive in backdoor cuts. Four of Butler's buckets came off of those cuts, resulting in wide open alley oops, making for a majority of his points. Chicago's shooting percentage may have plummeted from 60% to just 42.5% on the night, but those were backbreakers time and time again.
It's also not a surprise Frank Vogel would ride with a backcourt of George Hill and Monta Ellis to close the game, but was somewhat frustrating at the same time given their own overall lack of success coupled with the solid play of Ty Lawson (whose eight points in 16 minutes was as much or more than Hill and Ellis's in twice the time).
Lawson left the game with 6:06, having just helped instill some much needed confidence in rookie Myles Turner, who scored all six of his points in the fourth quarter. In the final six minutes, Indiana fumbled their way to just four points, two by Turner and two by G. Hill, just two points in the final 5:46 of the game. Ian Mahinmi did have another stellar offensive game, scoring 18 points for the third consecutive game.
Chicago did not want to win this game as evidenced by their equally inept play throughout the remainder of the fourth, but Indiana's lack of playmaking in any facet was a huge blow in a stretch that could've created easier looks than Indiana had (though to be fair, any good look they got wound up a nice brick in its own right).
Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons secured a huge home win against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, pushing Indiana into 8th place in the East, at least temporarily, though regardless of whether they play Cleveland or Toronto, both teams will be glad to steal late wins from the Pacers in preparation of playing smarter basketball teams in later rounds.
Indiana will have a chance to get back in the win column on Thursday when they close their home stand against the Orlando Magic, a team that dismantled the same Brooklyn team Indiana had no business losing to, but did anyway, on Saturday. One note on the game was Paul George suffering an apparent ankle injury at the end of the third quarter, but he did return to finish out the game.