Gut-wrenching loss to Pacers started Chicago Bulls' surprising turnaround

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) hits a shot over Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn (32) to give the Pacers the lead in the final minute of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 98-96.

    Indiana Pacers guard Victor Oladipo (4) hits a shot over Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn (32) to give the Pacers the lead in the final minute of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 98-96.

 
 
Updated 12/28/2017 9:14 PM

The last time the Chicago Bulls saw the Indiana Pacers, they suffered one of the most disheartening losses possible.

After leading by as many as 17 points, the Bulls collapsed down the stretch at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

 

Indiana finished the game on a 19-4 run, while Victor Oladipo's steal and pullup 3-pointer with 31 seconds left was the NBA's highlight of the night.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg talked after the game about how much the loss stung. It was the Bulls' 10th straight defeat and it knocked their overall record to 3-20, easily worst in the league.

How low could they go?

As it turned out, the only way to go was up.

Two nights later, the Bulls began their winning streak in Charlotte and are 9-2 in their last 11 games heading into Friday's rematch with the Pacers at the United Center.

Sure, the last Indiana game might have showed how close the Bulls were to actually winning games, but no one could have imagined what would happen next.

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Actually, Nikola Mirotic claimed he knew it was coming. The game in Indianapolis was the last one he sat out before returning from facial fractures.

"I don't know if the guys expected we'd be that good, but I did. I knew it," Mirotic said. "I felt it because I was back, I was happy. People were happy. After we won that one in Charlotte, everything turned."

Kris Dunn wasn't convinced. At the time, though, he was very positive about the state of the Bulls. The Indiana game was actually the third time in four games the Bulls lost by 1 or 2 points.

"Yeah, it definitely hurt. We watched the whole fourth quarter (the next day) and it hurt when we were watching it," Dunn said. "When you see a game slip by, it hurts you. But at the same time, you try to learn from it and grow from it.

"No one knew it would be the winning streak we had, but we knew that we were a good ballclub. We knew we could go out there and compete, we just had to figure out the chemistry part of it. When you play together, play hard and grind it out, you win games."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One area where Mirotic helped was adding another scorer who could help finish games in the fourth quarter. The Bulls took another step forward in Wednesday's victory over New York, because they rallied from a 15-point deficit with Mirotic (4 points) having a rare off night.

"We knew we were so close," Mirotic said. "To win those games, it was just about finding a way; having the patience to find the right guy in those crucial moments."

Dunn joined the Bulls on draft night in the Jimmy Butler trade, but he spent the rest of the summer in Chicago. He thinks the Bulls built the confidence they needed back then.

"It started in the summer," Dunn said. "We believed in ourselves. We were working very hard. When you're 3-20, you try not to hang your heads. We just laughed because the whole time we were positive.

"We didn't care about the losses we had early because we understood we could have won those games. There was a lot of close games that we let slip by and we just laugh because out of nowhere we just changed and that chemistry clicked.

"We're tough right now."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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