For about three and a half quarters, the Indiana Pacers did very little to bestow relief from their frustrating weekend loss in Sacramento. Indiana’s inability to build upon whatever minuscule lead they had against the Kings carried over nicely against the Chicago Bulls, allowing them to stay right in the thick of things late.
The Pacers had an opportunity early to control the game, overcoming an early 12-6 deficit by outscoring the Bulls 15-0. However, the nine point lead late in the first would be the biggest of the night for Indiana, who closed the quarter on a low note, getting outscored 9-2.
Things didn’t improve much for Indiana heading into the second quarter, going scoreless for the first three and a half minutes, eventually falling behind by as many as six. They finally found some sort of footing late in the half, tying the game before surrendering a tough Lauri Markkanen fadeaway to trail 45-43.
In the third quarter, the two teams went back and forth, making up for 15 lead changes and six ties with the Pacers coming out on top, leading by three heading into the fourth. Despite having the lead at stretches, Indiana hadn’t held a two possession lead since the closing seconds of the first quarter, amping up the frustration in the wake of the Sacramento game.
Two minutes into the fourth, the Pacers were finally, finally able to break through. Cory Joseph hit a big corner three to push the lead to six, allowing them to then keep the Bulls at arm’s length for the remainder of the game. While they didn’t give up the lead, it was certainly not for lack of opportunities.
The Pacers had two separate two-minute stretches where they failed to score a single point. They were forced to lean on their defense for key stops, at times helped by the Bulls, but still did nothing to slam the door shut. They finally managed to do so in the final three minutes, responding on the next possession to a pair of big Chicago threes that had each time cut the lead to three, allowing them to close out a tough 96-90 victory.
The Pacers had to dig deep in this one. Only four players reached double figures, but they got a lot of big stretches throughout the night to either help stay afloat or to push them over the top. Darren Collison led the way with 23 points, doing so on 6-7 shooting with eight rebounds.
Collison scored six in the final 2:11, including a 4-4 trip at the free throw line to allow the Pacers to ice the win late. He had 12 in the third quarter to give Indiana the opportunity to go blow for blow with the Bulls. Collison also had three threes on a night when Indiana was just 6-22 from deep. He did finish below his recent average with three assists on the night however, but two came in the late stages of the fourth, both to Myles Turner to help secure Indiana’s two-possession lead.
Turner himself had a tremendous game anchoring the Pacers defense. He had five blocks and 11 rebounds, three of those blocks coming in the third quarter. Offensively, Turner had 18 points. He shot just 8-17, but didn’t play shy, scoring eight during the 15-0 run that put Indiana ahead in the first quarter.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 14, doing a bulk of his work in the second quarter with six, including four straight late that helped Indiana tie the game after having fell behind. Thaddeus Young meanwhile scored the first four of the third quarter as part of his six. Tyreke Evans had 10, but again seemed keen to mix stretches of solid play with perplexing miscues. He was a perfect 4-4 from the line, but had five turnovers.
He led the way for the Pacers on a night when they again were sloppy with the basketball. They had 18 turnovers on the night, allowing the Bulls to score 17 off of them. The Pacers got the edge on the Bulls in both categories, but it wasn’t pretty in the least. Off the bench, both Domantas Sabonis and Cory Joseph combined for seven, putting blemishes on their own solid nights.
Both players scored nine each off the bench, Joseph scoring seven in the fourth to pair with solid defense throughout. Sabonis meanwhile looked a step slow in the first half, but made up for it after the break, scoring all nine of his points in the final 17 minutes of game action to go with another 11 rebound night.
Aaron Holiday scored five, but provided a solid stretch of 12 minutes, including the first bucket of the second quarter and two assists early in the fourth to help give Indiana their two possession lead. Holiday would also trade jerseys with his brother Justin Holiday after the game, giving the Pacers/Bulls rivalry a rare warm moment.
It wasn’t much to look at, but the Pacers still managed to halt their losing streak at just two, continuing their streak as the only team in the NBA to not lose three straight in the 2018 calendar year. They also improve to 4-4 without Victor Oladipo in the lineup. The Pacers improve to 14-10 on the season, allowing them to stay afloat at they await the return of Oladipo.
The Pacers will be back on the road for a game on Friday as they’ll face the upstart Orlando Magic. The Magic are currently seventh in the East at 12-12, but have gotten there despite having the worst home record and point differential of any of the Eastern playoff teams. Maybe it’s a mirage, but the Pacers aren’t in position to take any game for granted, especially considering they’re the only Eastern playoff team with less wins against .500 or better opponents than the Magic.