Without Caruso, Bulls turn in miserable performance against Pacers

Does Alex Caruso mean everything to the Bulls or were they overdue for a dud performance on the second leg of back-to-back games?

Let the debate begin.

What's indisputable is the Bulls got pounded from start to finish of a 109-77 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Monday at the United Center. The Bulls were never closer than 19 points in the second half.

"Just had a bad day," Zach LaVine said. "Lose by 30 or lose by 2, you still lose. Just take it as a learning experience. They came out and hit us first. We couldn't respond to it and they kept going. Offensively and defensively, we just didn't have it tonight."

Caruso sat out due to a left wrist bruise and coach Billy Donovan chose to use Coby White in the starting lineup. Whether that made any difference was impossible to tell on this night, when the Bulls were lethargic and Indiana was locked in from the opening tip.

"I thought Coby played well last game," Donovan said. "I thought it could be kind of an opportunity to throw him out there and hopefully build off what happened the other night. That was really it more than anything else. I wanted to give him an opportunity coming off what he did against New York."

White hit 2 of 10 shots and scored 4 points, which was 4 more than Lonzo Ball scored. The Bulls shot 36.5% from the field, as the taller Pacers played plenty of zone defense.

The only conceivable highlight for the Bulls in this game was center Marko Simonovic, the team's 2020 second-round pick, making his NBA debut and scoring 1 point. The Pacers had nearly the same number of blocked shots (12) as the Bulls had assists (13).

At one point, the fans amused themselves with a "Fire Nagy" chant, a reference to the Bears coach, which only made this game even more sad.

This was the Bulls' first game of the season without a 20-point scorer. They'd gotten a 30-point scorer in the last five games. DeMar DeRozan finished with 18 points, LaVine had 17 and neither played in the fourth quarter.

Indiana (8-11) set the tone right away with former Bulls forward Justin Holiday hitting a 3 on the opening possession. A short time later, the Pacers unleashed a 14-0 run to take a 17-5 advantage and the Bulls were playing catch up the rest of the night.

Poor performances were common during the rebuilding years. This season, the Bulls are 12-6 and challenging for first place in the East. So should a bad outing be forgiven?

"I've never been a big believer of, 'Just flush the game, it didn't happen,'" Donovan said. "No, it did happen. That's exactly what happened. We've got to own it - coaches, players, everybody.

"We're not getting the game back, but there is a standard and an expectation we expect to play to and certainly tonight was not that. And I'm not taking anything away from Indiana. They played very, very well. But I do think what we learn from this and how we respond to this is very important. How do we get from here to there is terms of becoming a better team, that's the way I would look at it."

This is a busy week for the Bulls, one of three times they'll play five games in seven days. They'll leave town Tuesday for a Thanksgiving-spanning road trip to Houston and Orlando, followed by a home game Saturday against Jimmy Butler and Miami. Donovan said center Nikola Vucevic will make the trip, though his participation is uncertain.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Chicago Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr., left, rebounds the ball next to Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Associated Press
Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, left, drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Associated Press
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