For a second straight game, the Indiana Pacers struggled to connect from three point range and had a rough night at the free throw line, but again it didn’t matter on the scoreboard as they blasted the Chicago Bulls to move to 2-0 on the season. The Pacers used runs of 21-0 and 18-0 to turn a six point deficit into a 30-point advantage, outscoring the Bulls 72-43 in the second and third quarters.
The Pacers got there with their activity on defense, frustrating the Chicago offense into numerous mistakes. They forced 20 turnovers, outscoring the Bulls 25-14. On the other side, Indiana’s offense had no resistance at the rim, dominating Chicago in the paint 76-34, and shooting near or above 60% from the floor most of the night.
It was the second unit (with Domantas Sabonis) that turned the game around after Chicago had built a 40-34 advantage early in the second. T.J. McConnell stole two inbounds passes in a full-court press, each resulting in Sabonis buckets, the second of which putting Indiana on top for good at 41-40. That particular run would extend out to 21 straight, taking a 10-point lead into halftime.
Indiana stormed out of the locker room, scoring the first 18 of the third quarter as part of a 22-2 run that was capped on a Victor Oladipo four-point play, totaling nine in the first six minutes. Myles Turner also had nine in the quarter as the Pacers wrapped up the third leading 99-71.
Despite the big advantage, Indiana still allowed Chicago to work their way back into the game in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to as few as 11, forcing an Indiana timeout. Five straight out of the timeout from T.J. Warren and Oladipo put a cap on the 125-106 win, their 10th straight over the Bulls.
Incredible balance by Oladipo to hit this three and get the Pacers back on track: pic.twitter.com/YxdONvBVHN— Tony East (@TEastNBA) December 27, 2020
The Pacers had big nights all around in the win, including a trio of 20-point scorers, led by Warren, who broke out with 23 on 10-16 shooting. Warren was completely out of sync in the opener; not a complete surprise given his lack of time in the preseason, so it was great to see him get up to speed so quickly, scoring 12 in the first quarter on 6-8 shooting.
Sabonis led the way in the second, scoring 14 of his 22 with the second unit. Sabonis not only bullied the Chicago front line, but showed out as a playmaker, dishing a game high 11 assists. His 10th rebound to start the fourth quarter completed his first triple double of the season.
Oladipo also had 22, getting there with 11 total in the third, playing probably his best game since his return last season with seven rebounds and a pair of steals. Most importantly, Oladipo shot 5-5 from three point range, salvaging another terrible night shooting deep from the Pacers.
Between their three point shooting and free throw shooting, it’s a minor miracle they were able to build the lead they did at all. The Bulls not only made seven more threes, they also made 10 more free throws. The Pacers shot a woeful 3-13 in the first half before getting a much needed boost from Oladipo and Doug McDermott, going 6-13 after the break.
They were also 9-16 in the first half on free throws, as Sabonis continues to work his way to the line at will while also struggling to put them in at a consistent rate. Through two games, he is is 14-23, which while not a great percentage is still just shy of half of Indiana’s total attempts through two games.
Malcolm Brogdon reached double figures with 18 points and six assists and Turner was again the catalyst for Indiana’s success defensively, especially to start the second half. His play early in the third quarter was nothing short of dominant, helping to hold the Bulls scoreless for nearly five minutes.
The bench helped bring a huge energy boost though only McDermott reached double figures with 12. McConnell, along with Aaron Holiday and Justin Holiday combined for eight of Indiana’s 15 steals. Seven of those came in the second quarter after a nearly flawless first quarter from both teams with only two turnovers each.
The 59 points the Pacers scored in the second half is a season low thus far, their first half of the 2020-21 season in which they haven’t broken 60 points. The ease in which the offense is scoring has really been impressive considering how poorly they’ve shot the ball from three point range these first two games.
The 2-0 start is the first since 2013-14, giving the Pacers the exact record they would’ve hoped to have heading into their first back-to-back of the season as they return home to host the Boston Celtics for two games. These next two games, starting with a Sunday night tip, will be a good early season test for Indiana.