Still smarting from an emotional loss in the rugged first round of the playoffs to the Chicago Bulls nine months ago, the Indiana Pacers returned to the United Center and scrapped as if they were back in the postseason.
Sure it was just another regular-season game in a schedule crammed with them following the lockout, but after the Pacers beat the Bulls 95-90 Wednesday night -- ending Chicago's unbeaten streak at home -- the satisfaction was evident.
"They are just thrilled to get the win here," coach Frank Vogel said. "They were crushed that we didn't beat them last year in the playoffs."
Danny Granger scored 22 points and a much-improved Roy Hibbert had 20, including a key dunk with 13 seconds to go, as the Pacers showed their progress from the five-game loss to the Bulls last April. Adding free-agent David West, who had 14 points, also has helped.
"The difference between this year's team and last year's team, we have confidence that we'll score at crunch time," Vogel said. "We'll score in the fourth quarter. We didn't have that last year."
The victory, one night after the Pacers lost by 19 at home to Orlando, was of the comeback variety as they rallied from 10 points back at half.
The Pacers limited injury-depleted Chicago to 36 second-half points and held Derrick Rose to two points in the fourth quarter. Last season's MVP finished with 24 points.
Trailing by two in the final half-minute, the Bulls had the ball in Rose's hands but when he saw his path to the basket impeded, he moved it to the corner to reserve Brian Scalabrine, whose 24-foot attempt bounded off the rim.
"Trusting my teammate," Rose said. "I think it was a good shot. At the time I thought I didn't have the shot and I think I made the right play. ... That's usually his shot. I'd give it to him again."
After the missed shot the ball started to go out of bounds, but Chicago's Joakim Noah saved it, Indiana's Darren Collison retrieved it and tried to dribble out some of the clock. The ball got away before Granger passed it to Hibbert for the clinching dunk, ending the mad scramble.
"This was a big win for us," Granger said. "Right now we expect to win. We gave them a lot of easy buckets and they kind of blew the led open in the last two minute of the first half. In the third quarter we knew we were going to make a run and we did. We turned up the defense."
The Bulls, missing injured starting forward Luol Deng (torn ligament left wrist), fell to 16-4 overall and 8-1 at home. Top sub Taj Gibson sat out his third straight game with a left ankle sprain.
Ronnie Brewer, who started for Deng, scored 20 and grabbed 10 rebounds.
"The NBA is the NBA and people are going to get injured," Rose said. "So guys got to step up. We have to step up as a team."
West had a basket and a dunk and the Pacers forged a five-point lead early in the final quarter.
Indiana kept it a five-point margin when Paul George made a nice crossover dribble and roared into the lane for a dunk with just over 6 minutes remaining. Granger's jumper increased the lead to seven with about four minutes left.
Chicago quickly sliced it to three on a tip-in by Carlos Boozer and then a dunk by Noah following an Indiana turnover. .
Brewer's two free throws with 1:33 left cut the Pacers lead to 90-88. But West made a runner across the lane before Chicago's Richard Hamilton hit two from the line with 57 seconds remaining to make it 92-90 Pacers.
Rose showed no sign of a sprained left big toe that has caused him to miss time this season. He hit a 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer but it was waved off after officials reviewed the video and saw that Rose didn't release the ball in time.
As the half was nearing its end, Rose blocked a shot, got the rebound and made a long pass to Hamilton for a layup and subsequent three-point play that gave the Bulls a 10-point lead as they closed the half on a 14-5 run.
But the Pacers came out flying in the third quarter. Paul George hit a 3-pointer and Granger broke free for two baskets and Indiana quickly chopped the lead to two.
The Pacers finally regained the lead on another hook by Hibbert, but Rose responded with a three-point play. West's free throw with less than a second to go put Indiana up 75-74 after three.
NOTES: Indiana's A.J. Price did not make the trip because of strep throat and neither did Jeff Foster, who is bothered by a sore lower back.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.