Rajon Rondo sneaked, soared and stole his way to three offensive rebounds on one possession, ultimately feeding Nikola Mirotic for a 3-pointer.
Seconds later, Michael Carter-Williams, in his first action since Oct. 31, went sliding into the courtside seats to save his steal and start a fast break.
Players always can control effort, and the Bulls brought that element in abundance in their 90-85 victory over the Pacers on Monday night at the United Center, right down to Dwyane Wade’s steal of Aaron Brooks’ crosscourt pass and clinching dunk with 1.2 seconds left.
That’s how to snap a three-game skid despite shooting 38.6 percent overall and scoring only 12 points in the third quarter, which allowed the Pacers to pull even after trailing by as many as 16 in the first half.
All the effort categories — a 47-41 rebounding advantage, a 28-10 edge in free-throw attempts and a 14-3 victory in second-chance points — favored the Bulls.
And with Doug McDermott sidelined by a left shin injury that the team is calling a day-to-day situation, Mirotic picked an opportune time to shine.
Mirotic scored a season-high 20 points, including a stepback jumper over Thaddeus Young with 21.2 seconds left, to post his fifth straight double-digit scoring game since getting benched for two games.
“It was a tough shot. But I know I can make those shots,” Mirotic said. “It’s probably my first time here. But I was used to making those shots in Europe.”
Heck, Mirotic even forced a Paul George turnover in isolation at one point, a film clip Mirotic should ask to have bronzed. And Mirotic played solid defense on Brooks, who led a Pacers team playing without Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey with 19 points, to force the pass that Wade stole.
“I kind of played free safety on that one, kind of baited him to throw it a little bit,” Wade said.
Wade didn’t sugarcoat how important Mirotic is to the Bulls.
“We need him to win; it’s as simple as that,” Wade said. “We just want him to be aggressive. We’ve been trying to put him in different spots on the floor the last few games. And he’s been getting better looks. Once he sees it go in, his confidence goes up. He knows we believe and trust in him.”
The standbys also delivered. Wade, who scored a game-high 21 points, sank a vintage baseline jumper over George with 2 minutes, 29 seconds left for a four-point lead.
And Jimmy Butler, who guarded Kawhi Leonard and George on successive nights, poked the ball away from George for a steal with 1:36 left and followed with two free throws. Butler endured a 3-for-12 night to score 16 points on top of helping limit George to 14 points, almost eight below his average.
But one standby watched it all. Rondo sat the final 16:32, mostly in favor of Jerian Grant. In another rotational departure, Wade played the entire fourth.
“It’s just the way the flow of the game was going,” Hoiberg said. ” Dwyane was making a lot of great plays with the ball in his hands. Jerian had a terrific game as well. And we put Carter-Williams in there to finish with defense.”