Pacers hang on to beat Bulls, return home to face Knicks
The Pacers adjusted their approach to earn a 2-0 road sweep with wins in Houston and Chicago.
The Pacers beat the Bulls 120-104 at the UC on Thursday night, but the W didn’t come as easy as the score may indicate on the surface.
Regardless, the Pacers return from their mini-roadie with two wins and a new starting lineup to throw at the visiting Knicks on Saturday night. With Bruce Brown remaining on the shelf due to a knee bruise, Rick Carlisle has shaken up the playing rotation which seems to have grabbed the attention of his players.
The defense has not been horrible in the past two games which is a vast improvement and it looked like the Pacers would cruise to an easy victory in Chicago after they pushed their 11-point halftime lead to a 25-point gap midway through the third quarter. Tyrese Haliburton was in monster game mode, finishing with 21 points, 20 assists and zero turnovers, but he has to rest at times during the game.
The reserve unit, which to be fair has also been shuffled with new faces far less familiar playing with each other than the new starting group, let the lead start leaking during their third quarter stint. The Bulls made up the full deficit and took a three-point lead with just under eight minutes to go.
Enter Haliburton and Myles Turner to finish the game with Aaron Nesmith, Buddy Hield and Bennedict Mathurin. The Pacers scored the next 12 points, a 3-ball from Buddy, two more from behind the arc by Haliburton and a natural 3-point play with a dunk-and-1 by Turner. Better yet, the offensive outburst was fueled by defensive stops.
The Pacers didn’t look back, executing at both ends when it mattered, much as they did down the stretch in Houston. Dare I say, this squad showed a strong dose of mental and physical toughness in securing these two wins. Growth.
With Andrew Nembhard struggling, Mathurin was playing well enough to finish out the game, scoring 7 of his 19 points at winning time. As he has done throughout the year, Carlisle has no problem tweaking his rotations when do or do not deliver what he’s looking for on the floor.
Turner had a second rough matchup in the middle, but was helped out in Chicago with Nikola Vucevic missing the game. Vuc has been a problem for the Pacers with his ability to score around the hoop. In his absence, Andre Drummond tried to hold down the middle.
Drummond has been a menace for Turner and the Pacers over the years with his ability to rebound, particularly on the offensive end and score at the rim. It appeared he was going to have another big impact. but the big man had to play defense too, and foul trouble limited the minutes he was available. Then when the Bulls used a small lineup to get back in the game, their approach changed the Pacers were able to run away and hide without any Drummond impact down the stretch. Turner finished with 24 points and 3 blocks, while Drummond had just 7 points with his 16 rebounds.
The biggest difference was from deep, though where the Pacers made 19 3-balls to the Bulls’ 7 threes. Buddy Hield was 5 for 10 off the bench, which earned his closing minutes. Haliburton was 6 for 13 from deep with some logo level bombs that had the UC crowd oooing. Buddy and Tyrese were able to kill the will of the Bulls with those bombs.
Knicks at Fieldhouse
The Pacers return home to face the New York Knicks on Saturday night. The Knicks were in Orlando on Friday night where they lost to the Magic, 117-108. The two old rivals are fighting for similar real estate in the standings with the Knicks a half game up on the Pacers after dropping their last two games. Tie breaker implications are always at play in these Eastern Conference matchups.
The Pacers have already ruled out Bruce Brown for his fourth consecutive game with a right knee bone bruise. Isaiah Jackson was added to the injury report as questionable with a right pinky fracture. Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard played for the Mad Ants at the Fieldhouse on Friday night, but both should be available on Saturday night, if needed. If IJax can’t go, Carlisle may be forced to tap Walker for a few minutes.
Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
When: Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Bally Sports
Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan
Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton, Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner
Knicks: Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, RJ Hampton, Julius Randle, Isaiah Hartenstein
Pacers: Isaiah Jackson (finger fracture) - questionable, Bruce Brown (knee) - out
Knicks: Mitchell Robinson (ankle) - out, Jericho Sims (ankle) - out
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