The Chicago Bulls were in action for an early afternoon affair on Friday, taking on the Indiana Pacers. Chicago was looking to extend their two-game win streak amid rumblings that head coach Fred Hoiberg is on the hot seat. Here’s how the action panned out.
Early games can be tricky and such proved to be the case for the Bulls. They didn’t appear ready to play at tipoff and that carried throughout a chunk of the first quarter.
The Pacers grabbed a couple steals and started perfect from the field, jumping out to a 22-10 lead just seven minutes into the game. Chicago looked lethargic and committed a variety of turnovers. A pass into that found no one, bouncing into the backcourt and out of bounds. A couple of steals and transition baskets for Indiana. Rajon Rondo falling out of bounds.
And it wasn’t just the ugly ballhandling. Myles Turner went to work early, knocking down a long 2-pointer and following with a powerful slam dunk. Robin Lopez picked up two fouls and quickly found his way to the bench.
Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott found their way into the game, but no earlier than usual. Hoiberg was slow to react to his starters poor performance, but eventually got Cristiano Felicio and Michael Carter-Williams on the floor.
The Bulls started 0-for-3 from 3-point range while the Pacers shot 3-for-4 from outside. Chicago also had a horrendous seven turnovers in the first quarter. The bench finished the quarter strong, so despite trailing by 14 twice in the opening quarter, they finished trailing just 28-22. McDermott sparked the bench with five points off a 3-point and a long jumper and Carter-Williams followed up a wide-open airball with a swish to cap the momentum.
The bench kept it close early in the second quarter as McDemott continued to shoot well, knocking down another 3-pointer. Things were status quo until ex-Bull Aaron Brooks knocked down a wide-open 3 that pushed the Indiana lead back to 10 points, 37-27.
Felicio was a blessing and a joy to watch in this game. He grabbed an offensive rebound and then an assist on a McDermott 3-pointer, he knocked down free throws, and he had a fantastic slam dunk. However, he got a tech for hanging on the rim, which is a total joke to anyone who saw LeBron James on Christmas Day and picked up a total of three fouls quickly that brought Lopez back into the game very quickly.
Chicago looked bad after that, but somehow pulled the game closer. Mostly, it had to do with the play of Butler and McDermott on the offensive end and a little bit of it might have come down to Carter-Williams on defense, who picked up a block at the rim among other things.
The defense from other Bulls players wasn’t nearly as good. Rondo, Dwyane Wade and McDermott were all getting killed. Still, the game was close until the end of the first half when four of the five starters were back in the game and the Pacers pushed the lead back to 12 and kept it there to end the half, 62-50.
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Things got interesting right off the bat in the second half with Carter-Williams joining the starters in place of Rondo. It was the right call. Rondo was awful in the first half. He had zero points, just one assist, committed three fouls and was minus-20 in the first half. Carter-Williams was having his best offensive game back after injury, but he was really in there for his defense and combination of ability and desire to play within the offense. While players like Butler were passing up corner 3s, MCW was taking his chances when they were there.
When the on-court action lagged, there were plenty of bylines to keep it interesting. McDermott continued to be a defensive liability and when Carter-Williams made it to the bench, it was Jerian Grant who subbed in, leaving Rondo on the bench.
Chicago wouldn’t go away and that probably has a lot to do with just how poorly Indiana is playing basketball this season. Mirotic struggled in this one. Felicio was the real spark off the bench in this game. The Bulls pulled within three at 93-90 with just under seven minutes to play. The rotations without Rondo continued.
The Bulls ran a much better offense when Felicio and McDermott were on the floor, which creates all kinds of problems because McDermott was atrocious on defense throughout this game at almost all times. In fact, when it started to get down to crunch time, they opted to pull McDermott instead of Carter-Williams. If they were looking for defense, there is some logic behind the move, but they lost offensive athleticism and shooting threat from the outside.
After a clear path foul from MCW, it was 107-101, Pacers with 1:04 to play and the Bulls opted to bring McDermott back. A few moments later, Paul George worked into the post one-on-one with Butler and knocked down a fadeaway baseline jumper with 50 seconds to go, 109-101 Pacers.
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Hoiberg did some things that looked better, encouraging, like sitting Rondo and going with Carter-Williams and Grant. He also featured Felicio more prominently, including a closing roll. However, there was some issue of spacing/spread for the Bulls when he opted to play MCW over McDermott with Wade returning. He’s figuring things out, but a combination of pieces and his own slow adaptation doom Chicago to another loss. It isn’t surprising if the Bulls are bad, but if we expect them to be good, this was a game that they definitely should have won and needed to win, 111-101 is the final.