Tough to tell what was the more surprising sight on Sunday: Derrick Rose sitting on the Bulls bench for the first time this season or Vladimir Radmanovic playing 11 minutes in the second quarter.
With Rose watching and an unconventional lineup playing, the Bulls put up a fight against Indiana before dropping a 97-92 decision at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 20 points each, but they couldn't come up with the tying 3-pointer after taking possession with 12.5 seconds left. Indiana sealed the win at the foul line and stretched their lead in the Central Division to four games over the Bulls.
There was never any official protocol mentioned for Rose sitting on the bench. There's been talk that his personal choice was not to sit on the bench until he's ready to play, while coach Tom Thibodeau suggested a few months ago that Rose would join his teammates during games when he was closer to playing.
After Sunday's contest, Thibodeau said there was no significance to Rose's seating choice. Only Rose knows how his knee feels and his return to game action could realistically happen Wednesday in San Antonio, a couple weeks from now or the next preseason opener.
Once again, the Bulls (34-26) were painfully short-handed. Kirk Hinrich missed his 16th game of the season, developing foot pain after Saturday's home win over Brooklyn.
"He doesn't know (when it happened)," Thibodeau told reporters before the game. "He said he woke up and had soreness in one of his toes."
Richard Hamilton missed his third straight game with lower back spasms, while Taj Gibson remains sidelined with a left knee sprain, which occurred last Sunday in Oklahoma City.
The Bulls not only played at home Saturday, they didn't leave for Indianapolis until Sunday morning because of plane issues. So Thibodeau turned to some unlikely lineup combinations and they ended up working well.
After the Pacers jumped to a 32-21 lead in the first quarter, he brought in Radmanovic for just the second time all season in the first half. Thibodeau used Marquis Teague and Butler more than Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer.
Radmanovic (2 points) played more than 10 minutes for the third time all season. Backup center Nazr Mohammed (7 points) equaled his season-high by logging 16 minutes.
The Bulls tied the game twice in the fourth quarter, drawing even at 80-80 with 7:03 left on a pair of Butler free throws. Indiana went to work on the Bulls' small lineup, though, as power forward David West and center Roy Hibbert scored the Pacers' next 10 points.
A Belinelli layup brought the Bulls within 90-89 with 1:27 left. Teague stumbled into George Hill on a jumper, leading to 2 free throws. Then after a Bulls' shot-clock violation, West followed in his own miss to make it 94-89 with 32.2 seconds left.
A 3-pointer from Butler and 2 missed free throws by Hill gave the Bulls a chance to tie, but they couldn't convert.
Before the game, Thibodeau addressed Noah's workload. After the Brooklyn game, Noah joked about how his coach doesn't understand rest.
"Last year we had Omer (Asik), so they shared the position more," Thibodeau said, according to espn.com. "I think he's grown. I also think the added minutes have really turned him from being an average player into an all-star."