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Pacers final score: Pacers stage another big comeback against Bulls, win 117-113

For the second straight game against Chicago, Indiana overcome a 20-point second half deficit to pull out a home win. Buddy Hield scored 27 in the second half, hitting six threes.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Down 39-15 after the first quarter, it appeared to be a wrap for the Indiana Pacers. They had no fight in the opening quarter against the Chicago Bulls, shooting 5-18 with seven turnovers, an atrocious start for a team that has specialized in them this season. Four more shots to open the second quarter did well to temper those expectations further, even as Chris Duarte knocked in a pair of threes to cut the lead to 20.

Duarte scored his eighth point towards the midway point of the quarter, cutting the lead to 18 as the starters returned. Tyrese Haliburton helped chip away at the lead, scoring or assisting on the next 14 points, hitting his own three late in the half to somehow cut the lead to nine at 48-39. After four points from Chicago, Duarte hit his third three of the quarter, cutting the lead back to 10, albeit briefly as the Bulls scored the final six of the half.

That end to the half turned out to be a bit of a gut punch when Zach Lavine opened the third with a three and a Haliburton turnover led to Ayo Dosunmu heading to the free throw line, giving Chicago another 20-point lead, pushing their advantage as high as 23 after a Rick Carlisle technical, the Bulls leading 69-46.

To that point, one of Indiana’s many issues was the lack of involvement from Buddy Hield. Hield went scoreless in the first half, getting up just two shots in that time. He would finally get on the board following the Carlisle tech, banking in a three. The shot shot life into the Pacers, kickstarting a 12-2 run featuring a second Hield triple, forcing the Bulls into a quick timeout after Indiana cut the lead back to 13.

Myles Turner scored five and Aaron Nesmith put in six to help trim the deficit to eight, forcing stops on the defensive end, giving Hield the opportunity to slice that lead in half with two more threes. A perfect shooting night to that point from Coby White, as well as another big bucket from LaVine again gave Chicago a boost late in the third, pushing the lead back out to seven, but a great last second find from Bennedict Mathurin to Hield resulted in a buzzer beating three, his fifth of the quarter.

Mathurin opened the fourth with five points, trimming the lead to one and Jalen Smith followed a miss from T.J. McConnel to tie things up at 90-90. Mathurin would get out in transition following a Dosunmu miss, getting the layup to give the Pacers their first lead of the night.

Mathurin appeared to expect a foul call on the layup, getting knocked to the ground and flexing, but no such call was made. That meant the Bulls were in an advantageous 5-on-4 possession for a good while, but appeared completely incapable of attacking the advantage, allowing Indiana to still get a stop once Mathurin returned to the picture.

The Bulls would eventually strike next, regaining the lead on a Patrick Williams three, but Duarte flipped the scoreboard with his own response in the corner. After knocking the ball loose from his college teammate Dalen Terry, Mathurin helped the Pacers again strike in transition as Nesmith drove to the basket against White, drawing the foul and knocking in a big time and-one, giving Indiana a 98-93 lead.

Though the bench’s run allowed Carlisle to hold off getting his starters back in the game, the Bulls were eventually able to capitalize, responding with seven straight points to go up by two. Back-to-back threes from White and Nikola Vucevic pushed Chicago’s lead back to six, but the Pacers locked in back-to-back threes of their own courtesy of Nesmith and Hield, the latter setting Indiana’s single season three point mark at 230.

Even after tying the game, the Pacers couldn’t get over the hump, twice more falling behind by two when Turner stepped into his first three of the game, giving Indiana a 111-110 lead with 1:19 left. That too failed to last following two threes from LaVine, but Haliburton responded, scoring the go-ahead basket with 31 seconds that put Indiana ahead for good.

LaVine missed a jumper with 11 seconds left, sending Turner to the line, putting Indiana ahead by three. The Pacers chose to foul on the inbounds rather than let LaVine attempt to tie the game, a decision that paid off when he split the trip at the free throw line, giving the Pacers a thrilling 117-113 win.

The win was just Indiana’s third in their last 20 games, but their second against Chicago. In the previous meeting, the Pacers did much of the same thing, overcoming a 21-point deficit late in the first half, eventually taking their first lead with 4:27 in the fourth. In both games, the Pacers led for just 5:30 out of 96 minutes, outscoring Chicago 145-101 in the second halves.

Hield led the way with 27 points tonight, scoring all of them after the break. It was a welcome night from Hield, who had struggled in the last three games, averaging just 12.7 points on 31.3% shooting from three. He had a third of Indiana’s 18 makes tonight, shooting 6-10, passing Reggie Miller for the team record in made threes in a season with 22 games to go.

Hield wasn’t the only Pacer to shoot well tonight, Duarte and Nesmith each hit four. Duarte in particular was a huge part of waking Indiana’s offense up with his 11-point second quarter, eventually finishing with 14. Nesmith meanwhile scored 21, including the opening six of the game, which at the time, tied things up at 6-6 before the Bulls blew the game wide open.

Turner hit just a single three, a big one coming late in the game, but he made his presence felt throughout, scoring 17 with nine rebounds, blocking three shots as well, all big time rejections for good measure.

He was forced to log 36 minutes tonight when Isaiah Jackson left the game in the first half with a non-COVID illness. Jalen Smith got the backup minutes tonight in the second half with Daniel Theis also out, making the most of his time with four points and four rebounds, including the massive follow that tied the game.

Carlisle and the coaching staff shuffled the starting lineup a bit by moving McConnell into the rotation ahead of Andrew Nembhard, a decision that didn’t offer up much with McConnell scoring just two for the game. It’s hard to tell how much of that switch played into Indiana’s especially poor start, but Nembhard did get the start in the second half.

Nembhard and McConnell finished with 12 combined assists, however, pairing well with Haliburton’s eight, allowing him to finish with 16 points. Mathurin also reached double figures off the bench, scoring 14, hitting multiple threes for the first time in over two weeks and his best three point percentage (50%) in nearly a month.

Would that the Pacers play the Bulls every night, but alas, the teams will meet just once more on March 5. Indiana currently holds a 2-1 series lead, trailing them by a game in the standings, though it’s hard to tell how close the teams will ultimately be down the stretch.

In the meantime, Indiana at least gets to head into the All-Star break on a positive note, setting up a busy All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City. Both Nembhard and Mathurin will participate in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, followed by Haliburton and Hield dueling in the 3-Point Contest on Saturday with Haliburton taking center stage on Sunday in his first All-Star Game.

The Pacers as a team will return to action Thursday the 23rd, hosting the Boston Celtics before a four game road trip that will end in Chicago.