INDIANAPOLIS—This one stung.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, an optimist for once, described his team as “determined.”
“Disappointed” is how Joakim Noah described it.
Whatever the feeling was after the Bulls’ 97-80 loss Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it’s something they certainly don’t want to feel anytime soon. It’s one thing when they just don’t have it, have the odds against them, have to contend with bad matchups and the like. But the Pacers, a familiar foe they know like the back of their hand, beat the Bulls at their own game—defense, rebounding and resiliency—and there was nothing they could do about it.
“We got beat in every facet of the game: the rebounding, the defensive transition, turned it over. You have to play 48 minutes against good teams. We got into a hole in the first quarter and dug out of that. I thought we played well in the first half overall. Third quarter was good enough and then the fourth has to be our best, and it wasn’t,” Thibodeau explained. “Even at the end, when you’re 10 or inside 10, we compounded our mistakes with giving them threes that really hurt us. I thought when you get outrebounded like we did and give a team like that two or three cracks at it, it’s not good.”
Noah added: “They fought hard. They wanted it more than us, they got to every loose ball, every rebound. Just took it away. Disappointing.”
“Defensively, second shots, turnovers, everything. They were on the fight and we weren’t there,” he continued. “We fought with them for three quarters, and they took it from us in the fourth.”
“We’ve got to get our edge back.”
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Indeed, from the frenetic and dynamic fourth quarter of shooting guard Lance Stephenson and timely second-half scoring from bench players like Luis Scola, Donald Sloan and C.J. Watson—the former Bull was a fill-in starter on this night—to mainstays like rugged power forward David West owning the boards, behemoth center Roy Hibbert dominating defensively and All-Star swingman Paul George scoring on one end and smothering Derrick Rose on the other, the Pacers had all their bases covered in front of a home crowd that’s no longer 50-50 when the Bulls are in town.
What was a 69-67 Bulls lead with 7:15 remaining, thanks to All-Star small forward Luol Deng and reserves Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich, quickly morphed into a double-digit Pacers advantage in less than three minutes, as Indiana overwhelmed its guests.
“They were making shots. Lance came in and hit a couple big buckets, and the momentum went to their side,” Rose said. “Defensively, towards the end, we let them get too many fast-break points.”
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But afterwards, as dejected as they looked—even on the court, in the final minutes of the game—the Bulls put on brave faces and vowed to turn things around, as the 1-3 start to a regular season in which they were expected by many to be eventual title contenders is certainly not what they envisioned.
“We have to work and we have to work together. That’s the big thing. That’s how you build chemistry. That’s how you learn to play off each other. That’s how you learn to cover for each other. For us right now, we’re inconsistent. We have a good quarter, then a bad quarter. You can’t win in this league like that. We have to be consistent with our approach and our work and in every facet of preparing for the game,” Thibodeau said. “We have good character. We’re all disappointed. We know we have to do better and we will.”
Noah concurred: “Just keep competing. Get sick of losing. It’s everybody. Everybody has to come in with the right mindset.
“We know we’re capable of a lot better. We’ll be all right though,” he went on to say. “I think we just have to play with a better edge and we’ve just got to do better. It’s all about winning and losing. Right now we’re losing. We’ve got to find a way to turn it around.”
The questions of how and when the Bulls will do that are still up for debate. But given this team’s track record of fortitude—and the fact that two home games against Utah and Cleveland are next up on their slate—bank on it happening in the near future.