After escaping New York on Wednesday, the Indiana Pacers once again got out just in the nick of time against the Chicago Bulls to earn their fourth consecutive road victory. How the Pacers got there wasn’t always pretty, but to wrap up a stretch of five of six games on the road with four wins is hard to see as anything but a positive.
From the outset, however, the Pacers were blindsided by Chicago’s energy, finding themselves on the wrong side of a 37-22 score. Indiana struggled mightily to slow down Chicago’s offense, but were just as poor at finding success against their defense. The combination threw the Pacers in an early hole and the Bulls had no turnovers in the first quarter to soften their hot shooting to start.
Chicago’s lead swelled to 18 early in the second quarter behind back-to-back baskets from Antonio Blakeney. The Pacers responded with five points, kicking off a big run from the Pacers, as they chipped away at the lead throughout the second, tying the game at 50-50 with 3:07 remaining in the half.
Not surprisingly, the Pacers got there due to their ability to create turnovers. In the seven and a half minutes it took the Pacers to erase the 18-point deficit, they forced five turnovers, scoring off of each one for 10 points. All in all, the Pacers forced the Bulls into seven miscues in the second quarter, helping them work their way to a 60-58 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Indiana slowly but surely began to find distance between them and the Bulls, heading into the fourth up seven. Once there, the Pacers were again whacked by Chicago, surrendering six quick points and then finding themselves on the wrong side of another 9-0 run led by Zach LaVine that saw them down 99-92 halfway through the fourth.
After Victor Oladipo missed a three, the Bulls came down with a chance to push the lead even further, but Oladipo stole the ball from LaVine, eventually setting up Myles Turner at the free throw line as he and Oladipo scored 11 straight for the Pacers to jump ahead 103-99, tied up on a big time Oladipo three.
Unfortunately, the Pacers were unable to close the game out from there, allowing the Bulls to cut the four point lead in half. Oladipo would again extend the lead to four on a pair of free throws with 37 seconds left, appearing a stop away from sealing the win. However, Blakeney again brought Chicago back in the game, hitting a three and drawing a foul on Darren Collison to tie it up 105-105 with 30 seconds remaining.
On Indiana’s ensuing possession, Indiana’s ball movement found Collison in the corner. After faking a three, Collison stepped inside, drilling a midrange jumper for the lead.
The movement was nice, but the only concern left was that Collison had put the Pacers up on a two point jumper after passing up two three pointers between he and Bojan Bogdanovic. The Bulls tried to bring that into play on the final possession with Justin Holiday missing a three, but Chicago tracked down the offensive rebound, setting up Blakeney to get his attempt of his own.
Fortunately for the Pacers, Turner was in position to stuff Blakeney for the game-sealing block, securing the 107-105 win for the Pacers.
Turner’s block wrapped up his best night of the year, finishing with 18 points and six blocks. Turner was automatic from inside the arc, finishing 7-7, missing on his three three point attempts. Turner had just three rebounds on the night, but his ability to protect the rim created four rebounds for others.
Turner was key early to keep the Pacers from completely botching the first quarter, scoring four early points to go along with seven from Collison. The score wasn’t pretty at 23-11, but they were the only scorers for the first six and a half minutes of the game. Collison finished with 14 points on the night, his lone fourth quarter bucket coming on the winning jumper.
Oladipo led the way for the Pacers with 25 points, including seven in the fourth, all coming during Winning Time as Indiana needed a closer. It was part of a double double effort for Oladipo, who had 14 rebounds to go with five assists and two steals. Oladipo and Collison were each 1-6 from three point range, a struggle that nearly cost the Pacers late. Indiana was outshot 13-7 from three point range, but made up some of that ground by outscoring Chicago 20-8 from the free throw line.
Indiana has struggled heavily from the free throw line thus far this season, but were an excellent 20-22 on the night. This included a perfect 6-6 outing from Oladipo, who entered shooting just 54.8% from the line. That can hopefully open up a more comfortable showing from Oladipo at the line.
Thaddeus Young and Bogdanovic each had eight, with Bogdanovic being one of two Pacers to hit multiple threes and Young pulling in nine rebounds. The bench was outscored 41-34 in large part to Blakeney’s career night, but Oladipo was sure to give them credit for the win in helping find positives for the Pacers after their atrocious start.
Tyreke Evans led the way with 13 points, going 5-11 from the floor. Evans was sharp in attacking with the ball, allowing nearly all of his success to come at the basket. Domantas Sabonis followed up his perfect 12-12 shooting night against New York with a 1-4 shooting night, but did score nine thanks to his ability to get to the line, finishing 7-8.
The win moves Indiana to 6-3 on the season, including 4-2 on the road. The last three wins have taken some real work against teams with losing records, but the ability to close out these games has been a hallmark of the Pacers in the past couple of seasons. The good news from here is they’ll get to return home for three straight games. The bad news, however is that it will come against three playoff teams.
In fact, the Pacers will play six straight games against playoff opponents, with two games each against Houston and Miami. This stretch kicks off tomorrow night at home against the Boston Celtics, who have won four straight and will be on a day’s rest.