Tom Thibodeau got his wish this week, with two days of long practices, but the Bulls turned in their same, sorry early-season performance on Wednesday in Indiana.
They played well at times, but crumbled when things got tough in the fourth quarter. The Bulls led by 2 with 7:15 left in the contest, then were outscored 30-11 down the stretch.
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The Pacers improved to 5-0 for the first time in their NBA history with a convincing 97-80 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Bulls fell to 1-3 as they continued to struggle with chemistry, turnovers and long-range shooting.
"I thought we had two good days of practice," Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "I thought they were good at shootaround today. But we're still behind. We've got to keep plugging away. We can't get wrapped up in what we missed. We've got to lock into our improvement, get ready for Utah (on Friday) and that's all we have to think about."
Clearly, the Bulls' perfect record in preseason was a mirage. Perhaps the lack of an exhibition loss gave them a false sense of superiority.
Several recurring problems have surfaced since the real games began. That's when it became easy to remember the Bulls' starting five had never played together before the season opener at Miami. Derrick Rose is coming back from missing all of last season, while Joakim Noah sat out most of training camp with a groin injury.
"We've got to work together, that's the big thing," Thibodeau said. "We've got to work together. 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. Right now, we're inconsistent."
Rose started fast against the Pacers, but ended up scoring 11 of his 17 points in the first half. He played low minutes after halftime, even though he finished with just 3 fouls.
"Another step in the right direction," Thibodeau said of Rose. "Initially, he knocked down a few shots, got going. He'll find his way. He had two great practices. So each day, just keep working on improvement. Slow down a little bit, let the game come to you, make the right plays."
Luol Deng also scored 17 points to lead the Bulls, while Kirk Hinrich scored 12 off the bench. The Bulls shot just 35.6 percent from the field and were outrebounded 52-40.
Carlos Boozer started the night leading the league in field-goal percentage, but scored just 6 points and hit 3 of 10 shots. Boozer was outplayed by Indiana's David West, who scored 17. Paul George led the Pacers with 21 points.
The Bulls trailed for most of the third quarter, but took a 69-67 lead on a Deng jumper with 7:15 left. Things fell apart quickly from there as 2 turnovers helped lead to a quick 10-0 run by Indiana. Lance Stephenson drained 3-pointers to start and end the surge.
Jimmy Butler hit a 3-pointer to give the Bulls some hope, but the Pacers kept pouring it on. Ex-Bull C.J. Watson, who started in place of the injured George Hill, knocked down a 3-pointer. Kirk Hinrich answered with a 3, but was called for a flagrant foul against Stephenson a few seconds later. It all added to more of the same for the Bulls this season. They've played a tough schedule, but expected better than this.
"You have to be mentally tough when you face some adversity," Thibodeau said. "This is good. We've got to keep working, not get discouraged, put the work into it. If you do the right things, the results will take care of themselves."