The Bulls clearly thrive on adversity these days. So when they got one starter, Carlos Boozer, back in the lineup at Indiana on Monday night, they had to compensate.
During the first quarter, Nate Robinson picked up 2 quick fouls, Marco Belinelli limped off with a sprained ankle, and the Bulls fell behind 13-2.
The Bulls recovered and had their chances late in the game but fell short in a variety of ways. While losing to the Pacers 111-101 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Bulls' small lineup simply couldn't slow down Indiana's big men.
Power forward David West scored 29 points, 6-foot-9 Paul George added 21, and when the Bulls collapsed on the tall guys, point guard George Hill was left open to hit 7 of 10 shots for 22 points.
The Pacers (29-19) pulled into a tie with the Bulls for the Central Division lead and won their 14th straight home game.
"We were down big early and we had to fight to get out of that hole," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We didn't close the second quarter the way we should have, and then you're chasing your tail. That's basically what we were doing."
The Bulls still were without Joakim Noah (plantar fasciitis) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow). Belinelli limped off the floor with 2:47 left in the opening quarter, twisting his ankle when fouled by Orlando Johnson while hitting a 3-point shot.
Belinelli returned and ended up scoring a season-high 24 points. Robinson, named Eastern Conference player of the week Monday, added 19 points. Boozer had 10 points in 23 minutes in his return from three games off with a sore hamstring.
The Bulls' ended a streak of 41 straight victories when scoring 100 or more points, an NBA record shared with San Antonio.
The Bulls (29-19) recovered from the slow start to take a lead 29-28 after the first quarter. But they spent considerable time complaining about foul calls, or lack thereof.
The game started to get away midway through the third quarter. Trailing 66-63, the Bulls got a few of those tough calls in rapid succession. Richard Hamilton was whistled for a foul on Lance Stephenson's fastbreak lay-in, resulting in a 3-point play.
After Taj Gibson was called for an offensive foul away from the ball, Hill drained a 3-point shot while Hamilton was called for a foul battling for rebound position, resulting in a 4-point play.
The two-possession 7-0 run put the Pacers up 73-63. A few minutes later Hamilton was hit with a technical as he walked off the floor.
"We had some calls that we thought we should have had that went against us," Thibodeau said. "That's part of it. We have to have the mental toughness to get through that.
"We can't allow that frustration to lead us into not executing or recklessly fouling. To me, those are the things you don't want to do. We'll learn from it. We'll move on."
Indiana's lead peaked at 90-76 when Hill opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer.
The Bulls chipped away and had some chances. Trailing by 4 with just less than four minutes remaining, they had a chance for a breakaway, but Belinelli's long pass sailed over the head of Jimmy Butler.
The Bulls were upset a few minutes later when the referees refused to look at replay to determine an out-of-bounds call. Trailing 98-94 with 1:31 left, Belinelli missed a jumper and the rebound ricocheted out of bounds off Indiana center Roy Hibbert.
An argument could be made that Hibbert was fouled from behind by Gibson, who hit him on the head, but replays showed Gibson never touched the ball. The officials signaled Indiana ball without checking replay, and George's 3-pointer a few seconds later essentially put the game out of reach.
Indiana shot 34 free throws, compared to 22 for the Bulls. But since the Bulls shot a better percentage, they were outscored by just 8 points at the foul line.
Noah told reporters in Indianapolis that he might be able to return to the lineup Thursday in Denver. He missed 18 games with plantar fasciitis in 2009-10.
"In (2009-10), I just tried to act like it wasn't there and just play through it, and it was a mistake," Noah said, according to espn.com. "I feel like with a couple more days of treatment I think I'll be OK."