INDIANAPOLIS—A lack of offensive efficiency, something that’s come to be expected, and a rebounding deficit, which isn’t a common area of weakness, were the two aspects of the game that most plagued the Bulls (38-31) against the rival Pacers (51-18), whose interior size and scoring firepower were too much to overcome, resulting in a 91-79 defeat Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
As expected whenever these two teams face off, it was a physical game from the outset, with both squads emphasizing getting the ball inside in the early going. Pacers center Roy Hibbert (12 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots) was a focal point for Indiana, as was All-Star counterpart Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, four blocks) for the visitors in the first quarter.
But the pair of pivot men weren’t the only factors in the tight-knit affair, as a variety of contributors on either side made timely plays and for the Bulls, all seven players who saw action also scored. That balanced scoring helped them acquire an early edge and at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 23-19 advantage.
Led by Chicago native Evan Turner (seven assists) and crafty backup power forward Luis Scola (19 points, six rebounds), Indiana’s second unit went on an 8-0 run to start the next frame, prompting a Bulls timeout to regroup. Bulls reserves Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin (17 points), a member of the Pacers last season, tried to hold down the fort for the guests, but Indiana maintained its slim cushion for the time being.
While starters Noah and Jimmy Butler (17 points, five steals) helped the Bulls draw closer, Scola’s mid-range shooting exhibition kept the Pacers afloat. Noah began his usual rebounding, pushing the ball in transition and playmaking act as the first half wound down, though the Bulls trailed, 44-43, at the intermission.
After the break, the trio of All-Star small forward Paul George (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), veteran power forward David West and young shooting guard Lance Stephenson (15 points) buoyed the Pacers, extending their winning margin to double digits by virtue of a 19-2 run to start the third quarter. That’s when the game started getting chippy, as Carlos Boozer was called for a flagrant foul for elbowing Hibbert in the head and on the ensuing possession, Stephenson was issued a technical for standing over Mike Dunleavy Jr. after hitting a floater.
Stephenson, taunting aside, was Indiana’s major catalyst in the period and while the Bulls persevered to not let things get out of hand, heading into the final stanza, they were behind, 75-62.
The Bulls made a push at the beginning of the fourth quarter, getting the game into single digits behind improved defense and more efficient offense, led by the play-making ability of Augustin against his old team. The positive momentum took a hit, however, when Gibson picked up his fifth and sixth fouls in quick succession—Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to leave the sixth man in with foul trouble—midway through the frame, indirectly resulting in the Pacers surging and once again gaining a comfortable level of breathing room heading into the contest’s stretch run.
As time went on, the only mystery was whether or not George would get a triple-double, a feat he achieved late in the game and as it became clear that the Bulls wouldn’t have enough to mount a last-gasp comeback, the Pacers emptied their bench to symbolically seal the deal.