After a trio of especially bad road losses last week, the Indiana Pacers reversed course, taking it to the Chicago Bulls to close out a stretch of eight of 10 away from Gainbridge Fieldhouse with a dominating win. The 32-point victory is their biggest of the season, topping Saturday’s win over New Orleans.
The Pacers did their best to put this one away early, scoring 14 straight to jump ahead 17-5, eventually pushing their lead as high as 18 in the first. Caris LeVert and Justin Holiday combined for 18 in the quarter, leading the way for an effortless offensive performance from Indiana.
As each of the starters inched towards double figures in the second quarter, the Bulls were still lurking around, helped along by big time shot making from DeMar DeRozan and then Zach LaVine. After LaVine trimmed the lead to 13 with just over two minutes in the half, the Pacers closed with a force, outscoring Chicago 10-2 behind outstanding playmaking from Malcolm Brogdon.
As good as Indiana was on offense, they were really helped along by their defense. A 2-3 zone was the go-to for the Pacers, making things as difficult as possible for the Bulls’ offense, but also creating turnover and fast break opportunities that worked entirely in Indiana’s favor.
The zone remained intact in the third, leading to a 22-15 third quarter victory that more or less put the win on ice heading into the fourth. Though the game was never really in doubt in the third, there was a stretch in the middle of the third when things could’ve swung in Chicago’s favor as turnovers and missed shots mounted for the Pacers.
To Indiana’s credit, however, the defense stood strong in holding the Bulls without a field goal for over seven minutes in that time, eventually sinking an early dagger on back-to-back threes from Brogdon and Chris Duarte to snap their three game road losing streak. With garbage time fully settled in in the fourth, extracurricular activity from a foul-trouble Domantas Sabonis put the finishing touches on the win with a nice dunk to extend the lead to 34 points, courtesy of Jeremy Lamb.
The Pacers actually struggled offensively in the second half, scoring just 42 points, but held the Bulls to just 31. The second half dragged Indiana’s shooting numbers down to just 44% as a whole, but they finished the night on top in every area. The Pacers were +7 in both three pointers made and free throws made, outrebounding Chicago 59-38 and 12-2 in blocks. They also outscored Chicago 19-7 in fast break points and 16-5 in points off turnovers, timing strips and steals perfectly within the zone.
Sabonis led the way for the Pacers with 21 points and 11 rebounds despite his foul trouble. Sabonis also had four assists, enough for second on the team behind Brogdon. He was joined in double double land by Myles Turner with 12 points and 10 boards. Turner also blocked four shots in the process.
Brogdon had 16 points and seven assists, going 6-6 from the line, combining for 11-11 with Sabonis. Brogdon’s play to end the first half was easily some of the best basketball he’s played with the Pacers, scoring or assisting on 13 points in the final four minutes as the lead swelled to 21 at the break.
LeVert scored 10 in the first on 5-5 shooting, finishing with 12 on 1-4 since. The ball stuck with him, but it wasn’t a huge issue tonight, especially with the Pacers assisting on 16 buckets in the first half and 27 overall. Holiday, in a starter’s role, hit four threes to finish with 14, bringing all five players to double figures.
While there wasn’t a particular punch off the bench from the Pacers, they did get a number of solid contributions, particularly from Kelan Martin, who had seven. Duarte led all bench scorers with nine, but despite hitting a pair of threes, he still appears clearly bothered by his shoulder, going just 3-11 overall. T.J. McConnell had just four, but finished with six rebounds (three offensive!) and three assists, while Torrey Craig had four rebounds and two blocks to go with his four points.
Fourth quarter garbage time brought the return of Isaiah Jackson, picking up his first NBA block at the three point arc. Oshae Brissett (hitting a three) and Duarte each had blocks as well with Goga Bitadze pulling in five boards in seven minutes, though he blanked from the floor scoring. Lamb (five) and Brad Wanamaker (two) each scored.
The Pacers, as confounding as ever, pick up their second straight win, improving to 8-11 as they continue to try and fight back towards .500. The Pacers finish 3-5 in these last eight road games, which isn’t terrible on face value, but not a single one of the losses felt understandable whether it be due to execution or effort.
On the bright side, the Pacers will now play nine of their next 10 at home and won’t play consecutive road games until the New Year. The bad news is that the quality of opponent will remain daunting, with each of the last three NBA champions stopping by the Fieldhouse later this week, starting with the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.