Though the Indiana Pacers got the better of the Chicago Bulls the last time they met at the United Center, tonight’s game was far less optimistic for the Pacers, as the Bulls managed to go up early and keep Indiana at arms’ length all night. The Pacers had a pair of one-point leads to open the game, but both proved short-lived.
Chicago had a response to each of Indiana’s lead, turning a one-point deficit into a three point lead, then four, then five, inching all the way up to seven in the first. The real gap in play came in the second quarter, with the Bulls gouging the Pacers, pushing their lead as high 17.
The Pacers were just 5-20 from the field to start the quarter and when they finally did start making shots (finishing by hitting four of their final five), the deficit was still 15 thanks to Chicago’s staggering shotmaking. The Bulls finished the half with 63 points, shooting 63.4% in the process while Indiana sat just north of 40%.
Chris Duarte brought some much needed life to the Pacers offense to open the third, scoring nine of Indiana’s first 11, but their comeback stalled at 10 points when DeMar DeRozan quickly extended the lead back out to 15. After whittling away to again give themselves a chance at making it a single digit game, it was Zach LaVine that hit a three to halt the Pacer push.
Late in the third, Rick Carlisle did find a spark with Duane Washington Jr. playing his first meaningful minutes of the year, stepping in with a bucket, an assist, and a rebound as the Pacers finally broke though on an 8-0 run to make it an eight-point game, the deficit they’d take into the fourth.
Once in the fourth, shotmaking would take center stage for the Bulls, with DeRozan and LaVine almost methodically stepping into big shot after big shot to simply do what the Bulls had done all night: keep the Pacers at a distance. Caris LeVert brought some much needed shotmaking to Indiana’s side of the floor late in the quarter, giving the Pacers one last gasp, down 108-100 with just over three minutes remaining.
LaVine would swiftly slam the door with four points, wrapping up a 113-105 win in a game that honestly just felt like the final score. The Bulls finished the night shooting 56.6% and 47.8% from three, both top five nights for Chicago’s shooting. The Pacers meanwhile finished 43.6% overall and a paltry 8-30 from deep, aided by 18 extra shots off of 14 offensive rebounds.
Indiana struggled mightily in converting off of those offensive boards, however, scoring just 13. Domantas Sabonis, returning to action after missing Thursday’s game against Houston, was just 5-15 in the paint tonight despite pulling in over half of Indiana’s offensive rebounds (8), finishing with 14 points and 16 boards overall.
LeVert led the way with 27 points, but was touch and go as a scorer, stringing together a couple of nice stretches, but still shooting poorly overall at 9-22. He did lead the way at the line, going 6-7 and put in a team high three triples, but also missed a team high seven. He did continue to play well as the primary ballhandler, dishing a game high nine assists.
Myles Turner picked up some of the scoring load inside from Sabonis, scoring 19 on 9-18 shooting with five board sand a pair of blocks. Duarte scored 12 of his 16 in the third quarter and Justin Holiday wrapped up the double figure scorers with 10, hitting a pair of threes. Off the bench, Torrey Craig scored seven and Oshae Brissett had six, but without Jeremy Lamb, there wasn’t nearly enough of a scoring advantage present to offset what LaVine (32) and DeRozan (24) brought to the game.
Indiana had a number of positives in the game, outscoring Chicago 22-7 in transition and using their offensive rebounds to outscore the Bulls 62-44 in the paint. Unfortunately, the 23-17 assist advantage just seemed to highlight the one constant Chicago had all night on Indiana: shotmaking. LaVine and DeRozan did this same thing to the Pacers in their last meeting, but tonight, the supporting cast showed up for Chicago in a way Indiana wasn’t able to contend with.
The Pacers finish the 2020 road portion of their schedule at a dreadful 3-13, losing all four of their road games in the last month. They’ll play 10 games away from Gainbridge Fieldhouse in January, which at the moment doesn’t seem to bode well for a Pacers team that appears locked into the 13th spot in the East.
They will host two more games at the Fieldhouse to finish out the calendar year however, starting with the first of two home meetings against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.