Injuries have been a large part of the storyline for the Indiana Pacers this season and though they haven’t always been the reason for their perpetual struggles, it may have found its tipping point tonight against the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers, still missing Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, did beat San Antonio on Saturday, the return of Jeremy Lamb wasn’t enough of a boost when the trade off was losing Myles Turner early in the third quarter to a left ankle sprain.
Turner may not have made the difference in a game the Pacers had fallen behind by 18 to open the second half, but his play early was instrumental in giving them a lead late in the first quarter. The combination of a struggling second unit and Thaddeus Young existing pushed Chicago ahead to end the first and build a double figure advantage early in the second quarter.
Indiana closed the gap to 10 with 30 seconds left, but a Tomas Satoransky three to close the half and five quick points from Nikola Vucevic suddenly swelled the lead up to 18. Turner then turned his ankle coming down after an impressive block against Patrick Williams, immediately laboring back to the locker room.
Goga Bitadze gave the Pacers a brief lift following Turner’s exit, rebounding well to help cut the lead to 13, but that advantage flipped in the other direction as Vucevic went to work on Bitadze (and then JaKarr Sampson), scoring nine more points to close the third as the Bulls went ahead by 23.
The Pacers, aided by a solid push from Sampson and Lamb, opened the fourth on a 10-0 run, but failed to get any closer to that, giving up a 5-0 run that more or less shut the door on any realistic comeback attempt. They did come away with a 23-16 fourth quarter win, their lone quarter win of the game in an otherwise forgettable loss.
Rebounding was another huge issue for the Pacers in this loss, even with Turner in the game. They were outrebounded 28-13 in the first and and 57-33 for the game. They had no offensive rebounds in the first half while surrendering eight. The extra opportunities the Bulls got were absolutely killer in a game the Pacers otherwise had a chance in early, leading to 11 points for Chicago.
Rebounding was the big thing, but the Pacers also weren’t good enough at smaller things. Though they dominated the fast break game (28-6), they failed to capitalize off turnovers (15-15) despite winning the turnover battle (21-15). They also struggled with lackluster three point shooting (9-30 vs. 14-33 for Chicago), with only four players making a triple (Justin Holiday not included!).
Caris LeVert led the way with 20 points, showcasing some excellent shotmaking early. He would lead the team in rebounding (six) and lead the starters with five assists. Unfortunately, with Vucevic scoring 32, it wasn’t enough of a boon to the offense as the Pacers finished with 97.
Edmond Sumner scored in double figures with 15 points, shooting 6-8 from the floor, both misses coming from deep. Sumner was fantastic in transition, though his issues tonight came with his decision making, committing three turnovers. T.J. McConnell also struggled with the ball, committing five himself.
Lamb was a shot in the arm for a second unit that really struggled replicating their electric play against San Antonio. He had 15 points, taking up the scoring load in the second quarter to help keep the Pacers in something resembling striking distance. His play to open in the fourth (along with Sampson, who had six points) helped spark the Pacers, picking up five steals in the quarter, though he (and again Sampson) had some perplexing misses on offense.
Bitadze picked up extra run when Turner went out and though it didn’t translate offensively (four points on 2-6 shooting), he did lead the team in assists (six) and tied with Turner in blocks (three). It was a bit of a trial by fire opportunity for Bitadze, struggling to contain Vucevic in the quarter, but Turner’s play in the first against the new Bulls center was excellent, scoring 10 and blocking him early to help give the Pacers their game high four point lead.
The early returns on Turner’s injury was negative on the x-ray, but Nate Bjorkgren noting that “he sprained it pretty good” doesn’t elicit much in the way of optimism. The Pacers will be back in action tomorrow night, wrapping up a two-game home series against the Minnesota Timberwolves as the home struggles continue.