The Pacers let a late lead and potential W slip through their short-handed fingers when veteran bucket getter, DeMar DeRozan rose up and hit a game winning three, to give the Bulls a 108-106 win over the Pacers for a fitting close to 2021.
As usual when the Pacers play a Bulls team that is anything about decent, the matchups at the Fieldhouse include plenty of Chicago-based fans, making the game playout like many of the high school holiday matchups around the state.
Thus was the case for the afternoon New Year’s Eve game with plenty of red and black in the stands giving full-throated support to any positive Bulls’ plays. But there remained a majority of Pacers fans and they were ready for the short-handed Pacers to make a run at the W in the fourth quarter.
With just over six minutes remaining, Justin Holiday drilled a 3-pointer to draw the Pacers within one point and give hope to the hometown faithful. After a stop at the other end, Domantas Sabonis finished around the rim to give the Pacers a 95-94 lead.
Oshea Brissett then delivered a block on D for another stop and rushed to the offensive end to force a Chicago timeout with a dunk that put the Pacers up three. All of those Pacers fans continued asserting themselves.
THEN...another stop and another stop and Sabonis fed Torrey Craig to put the Pacers up 5 despite some eye raising calls from the referees. After the stripes donated two free throws to the visitors, the Pacers had a three-point lead with just over three minutes to go. They were running with Sabonis, LeVert Holiday, Craig and Brissett...dogs indeed, but a tough crew to find easy offense with.
As the game closed to the final minute, the Pacers had several shots that wouldn’t fall, but by crashing the boards, they kept the lead alive with a foul on LeVert who converted two free throws. Then the Bulls down three, crashed the O glass to eventually end up with a DeRozan bucket.
Pacers up one, were unable to get a decent look which gave the Bulls the ball with eight seconds to play. Instead of a timeout, Chicago played it out and DeMar DeRozan ended up drilling a deep three-ball which blew the roof off the Fieldhouse and sent the Pacers into 2022 with a loss.
The Bulls? They had offense in reserve if they could just get the stops. After Coby White splashed an open corner three, the Bulls were able to turn over LeVert and get LaVine free in transition for a high-flying finish to cut the Pacers lead to 104-103 while engaging the Bulls’ faithful.
Lawdy, what a rough loss considering the effort from several Pacers off the bench.
- The Pacers relied heavily on Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis both as scorers and playmakers down the stretch. Sabonis finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists while LeVert pumped in 27 points withe 6 assists and 6 rebounds.
- The Pacers were just 8 for 31 (25.8%) from 3-land with Justin Holiday making five of the eight threes.
- The Pacers started the day with a potential feel good story of Kelan Martin starting due to the COVID protocol sidelining Malcolm Brogdon, Chris Duarte and Jeremy Lamb. Martin, the Butler local legend has been solid in a reserve utility role so this payoff would be nice.
- But then Rick Carlisle added Martin to the COVID protocol list before the game and the feel good story moved to Duane Washington Jr. The rook out of Ohio State is never afraid of the moment and matched up against Coby White to start the game fit in nicely. Certainly showed he belongs in the lead.
- Great crowd at the Fieldhouse this afternoon. Granted, many of those in attendance were wearing red and/or black, but we can’t complain at this point and considering how the game played out, it did not feel like the United Center South as it has in past years with quality Bulls teams.
- Pacers went nine deep in the first half which included a couple of minute for recent Fort Wayne signee, Nick Hinton. Effort was not an issue for Hinton and the Pacers were plus 2 in those minimal minutes which saw Hinton flying around on both ends of the floor.
- Goga Bitadze took those Hinton minutes in the second half with a couple of rebounds to show for his time and a plus-1 on the floor. For his part, Hinton stayed in the moment as the first one off the bench dapping up teammates after they closed the lead to one point at 73-72, forcing a Bulls’ timeout.
- Hard to watch Nikola Vucevic and not wish that Myles Turner would model his offensive game after Vuc which would leave plenty of room for his blocked shot impact at the other end.
- Keifer Sykes is admittedly a small NBA guard but looks every bit the part of a player while out on the floor. He has not put up the numbers to back up that assertion, but given time he seems like a natural and more importantly, productive reserve point guard to keep in the mix.
- The Pacers hit the road for their next two games against Cleveland (Sunday) and New York (Tuesday) before returning home to face the Nets. Yes, the New Year scheduled looks brutal on the surface and will depend on who is available for each team throughout the month.