More slow starts led to more losses for the Indiana Pacers, dropping to 1-4 after falling behind by 24 in the first half to the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers scored the first five and then promptly found themselves down by eight after the Bulls scored on six straight possessions, highlighting the atrocious first half defense that soured the return of their defensive anchor Myles Turner.
The Pacers wound up allowing 76 first half points to Chicago and then back-to-back threes from Zach LaVine to open up the third, trailing 82-59 not even a minute into the second half. Things began to look up for the Pacers at that point after Aaron Nesmith scored four straight to drop the lead under 20 and Jalen Smith followed up with a pair of threes to cut the deficit to 14.
Buddy Hield took charge at that point, hitting three straight triples himself and then lobbying an alley oop to Isaiah Jackson. Suddenly the Pacers were in business, making it a seven point game and eventually trimming it all the way down to four at 95-91. At that point however, the Bulls took charge defensively, forcing a turnover and getting a clear path foul when Terry Taylor fouled LaVine under the basket.
The Bulls closed out the third on an 8-2 run, forcing three turnovers in the process, completely flustering the Pacers, opening the fourth with a shot clock violation. Three pointers began to rain in favor of Chicago, back-to-back makes by Goran Dragic and another make from LaVine and the Pacers were back down 17 in the blink of an eye.
To Indiana’s credit, they brought their own fight on the defensive end from that point. Turner showed considerable rust, especially offensively, but he picked up back-to-back blocks and a steal. Three points from Bennedict Mathurin would cut the deficit to 10, but the Indiana offense just didn’t have another push in them, eventually succumbing in the closing minutes to drop their second straight on the road.
After falling behind by 17 early in the fourth, the Pacers allowed just two points over the next seven minutes. Though their own offense could barely get above a sputter, shooting 3-11 in that stretch with three turnovers, four missed free throws kept the game from getting back into single digits.
Chicago’s defense no doubt played a big role in that, however. The open looks that allowed Hield and Smith to mount the third quarter comeback were all but gone in the fourth quarter. The frazzled play of the offense led to 10 Chicago steals and 22 points off turnovers (though Indiana did 18 points off turnovers themselves), culminating in a 1-9 fourth from three after shooting 7-11 in the third.
Hield led the way for the Pacers tonight with 24 points, hitting a season high seven triples. Smith connected on three of his five attempts to finish with 15 points and nine rebounds, blocking two shots. They helped Indiana to a steady 16 makes from three point range, though unfortunately Chicago would match that total in 10 fewer shots, including a sickening 13-16 from LaVine, Dragic, Patrick Williams, and Alex Caruso.
Only Nembhard (1-1) would join Hield and Smith in shooting over 33% on the night, though both Tyrese Haliburton and Chris Duarte did put in a pair each on six attempts. Haliburton would finish the night with 18 points and 11 assists, but struggled against the Chicago defense in the second half, turning it over four times, six for the game, tying his Pacers career high.
Duarte meanwhile finished with 12 on 4-11 shooting, playing well when not rushed, his patented late shot clock miracles failing to connect tonight. It was also an uphill battle for rookie Mathurin, who clawed his way to 15 points, but was just 3-11 shooting. There was never much of a rhythm for Mathurin shooting tonight, but he still worked his way to the line for 10 attempts (hitting nine) and led the second unit with four assists and a steal (bumped up to two in an end of game strip as Chicago was dribbling out the clock).
Turner’s debut was a bit of a mixed bag. He and Smith each led the team with two offensive boards and Turner did involve himself in the game with six rebounds, four blocks, and two assists, but he was just 1-7 shooting on the night, 0-4 from deep to wrap up his night with five points, making it a tough evaluation in his first regular season game since January.
It was a fairly good showing for Isaiah Jackson, however, getting a block of his own and finally getting free for some nice alley oops, scoring eight with seven rebounds on 4-4 from the field. The return of Turner did shift the rotation a bit, moving Goga Bitadze out of the lineup and limiting Taylor to six minutes, which came as Chicago put the clamps down on the Pacers to end the third.
Aaron Nesmith did have a solid outing, scoring nine on 4-6 shooting, being one of the few Pacers who can seemingly score around the rim, but his activity on defense did lead to three first half fouls, four overall. T.J. McConnell meanwhile blanked from the field, going scoreless on 0-5 shooting with two assists, struggling to make an impact in his minutes.
The Pacers might have a win or two in them this road trip (well, looking at the schedule probably not two) if they could avoid putting themselves in an early hole. They’ve trailed by double figures in each of the first five first quarter almost by clockwork, which explains why they’ve led for just a touch over four minutes in the 60 minutes of first quarter action, including just 1:18 tonight.
They’ll get their first rematch action of the year on Friday night, however, facing the Washington Wizards as the road trip reaches its halfway point.