Once again, a lack of size caused major problems for the Indiana Pacers’ defense, allowing 70 points in the paint in a loss to the Chicago Bulls. As hard as Indiana fought to stay in this game, Chicago always had a shot at the rim at their disposal as a run-stopper, led by 36 points from Nikola Vucevic.
Though the end result was a loss, the totality of the outcome was far better than the 10-0 start by the Bulls would suggest. Chicago torched Indiana’s defense in the first quarter, piling on 40 points, but Caris LeVert would do everything his power to keep the Pacers afloat, scoring 22 on 10-11 shooting to help the Pacers to 33 points.
Chicago’s irrational fascination with the three point shot kept the door open just enough for the Pacers into the late stages of the first half. While they were shooting over 80% in the paint, they were just 4-15 from deep in the first two quarters, eventually allowing Indiana to close the second on a 10-4 run to draw them to within three.
The first adjustment out of the half favored the Bulls, who trapped and doubled teamed the scorching LeVert and using that to score the first eight of the half. The double teams eventually worked in Indiana’s favor, hitting three early triples to cut the 11-point deficit back down to four and eventually one on a Justin Holiday three.
Three straight one-possession opportunities did not fare well for the Pacers, however, as the lack of rim protection allowed the Bulls to score as a response to each of those. Fortunately for Indiana, however, they still made their threes, eventually taking their first lead of the game on a deep Lance Stephenson buzzer beater.
Unfortunately, that too would immediately turn into Chicago points, quickly regaining the lead and holding serve heading into the fourth still up three. Indiana’s first real defensive stand came early in the fourth, when down 95-94, Torrey Craig blocked Troy Brown Jr. at the rim, but the Pacers were unable to convert.
After holding strong for another possession, Terry Taylor was whistled for a tough offensive foul against DeMar DeRozan, setting up DeRozan for five straight points that continued to strain Indiana’s comeback attempt. LeVert (along with LeVert’s two man game with Taylor) draw the game to within two, but a 10-0 Chicago run made it a game high 12-point game with just under five to go.
LeVert had a response locked and loaded, scoring six of Indiana’s next 10 to trim the lead back down to four. The inability to defend the paint just kept gutting each and every Pacers run, however, as the Bulls extended their lead to out six with 41 seconds left. Holiday hit his third three of the game to cut it to three, but Ayo Dosunmu would come back with a soaring game-sealing dunk, giving Chicago the upper hand for good.
Chicago finished the night shooting 54.4% overall, but 79.5% in the paint, a percentage that proved impossible for Indiana to overcome despite the Pacers doubling up the Bulls in three pointers made 12-6. Chicago not only lived in the paint, they got to the line as well, doubling up the Pacers themselves 18-9.
The Pacers, meanwhile, were good, but not great in the paint. They scored 54, but shot just 54% in the process. Great effort plays late helped the Pacers not only make a game of it late but minimized Chicago’s once massive rebounding edge. They still finished a -3 in second chance points, allowing 13.
LeVert did a lot of the heavy lifting for the Pacers, finishing with 42 points and eight assists, shooting 19-26 in the process. LeVert scored 28 in the first half and struggled a bit with adjusting to Chicago’s traps, but came alive in the fourth to score 12. For a Pacers team that had no answer inside and ultimately allowed two 30-point scorers, it was a big time night for LeVert to help keep Indiana within striking distance late.
With Isaiah Jackson missing tonight’s game with his ankle sprain, the latest answer at starting center was Taylor, who was so outsized at center that Vucevic was able to turn the jump ball into a fast break outlet for the game’s first two points. Taylor played well and held strong, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end.
Five of LeVert’s assists also went to Taylor (six including a putback by Taylor on a LeVert pass) as the two worked together exceptionally well throughout the night. Unfortunately, hustle plays didn’t turn into much else for the rest of the starters, with Holiday and Craig combining for 14 with Chris Duarte laboring into 12 points himself.
Duarte’s play was especially indecisive tonight, though he was effective when he chose to shoot the ball, hitting two of his three three point attempts. Unfortunately, that didn’t extend to play around the rim, where he missed all three of his shots around the basket, going just 1-5 in the paint.
That led to Rick Carlisle turning to Duane Washington Jr. early in the third quarter. Washington offered the Pacers a much needed spark, scoring eight in just over three minutes to cut the lead to four and again had four big points in the fourth, finishing with 17 for the game.
It was a rough go for the rest of the bench, however. Reggie Perry made his debut after joining the team earlier today on a hardship exception. Perry scored two on a nice jumper, but committed three fouls in his 10 minutes. Oshae Brissett returned, but was largely ineffective, scoring just two himself with one rebound. Stephenson’s deep three to give Indiana their only lead of the game proved his only field goal, as he scored five on 1-7 shooting.
The Pacers drop the season series to Chicago 1-3, dropping them to 2-8 against the Central Division for good measure. Their Eastern Conference losing streak extends to 12 games as they hit the road for a pair of matchups against Eastern opponents, starting with their second of four meetings against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.