Bulls pay the price for sleepy second half in Nap Town

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (00) celebrates his three-point basket as Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 116-110.

    Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (00) celebrates his three-point basket as Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The Pacers defeated the Bulls 116-110. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/24/2023 10:10 PM

It seemed like the Bulls' playoff express was formally cleared for takeoff midway through Tuesday's game at Indiana.

The Bulls were flying high with a 21-point lead against a short-handed Pacers squad. It had the look of the easiest win of the season, but we've all learned the Bulls are capable of messing up all sorts of simple tasks.

 

Indiana turned up the pressure, attacked the basket relentlessly and pulled off a 116-110 comeback victory in Indianapolis. The Bulls were playing the second leg of back-to-back games, but the Pacers had lost seven in a row -- and hadn't won since point guard Tyrese Haliburton went out with an injury.

"The initial pressure really got us back on our heels, there's no question," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said after the game. "The intensity level, as it got raised, we were not able to respond at that level."

The Bulls led 62-41 with 1:40 left in the first half. Donovan said he warned his players at halftime Indiana has a history of pulling off double-digit comebacks this season, but when the third quarter began, it looked like the Bulls were dreaming of big stat lines instead of how to finish off the victory.

The Pacers went on a 16-4 run. The Bulls held them off for a while, but Indiana finally took the lead when T.J. McConnell finished a baseline drive and reverse lay-in to make it 102-100 with 4:27 left.

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"They were really, really aggressive," Donovan said. "We had a hard time handling the basketball, passing it and even just getting into offense. I think the other part of it too was when we did do a pretty good job defensively, we gave up so many second-chance opportunities where they just kind of outworked us, got to loose balls."

The Pacers shot 64% from the field in the third quarter, while center Myles Turner scored 16 of his 26 points. Rookie Bennedict Mathurin tallied 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, while McConnell finished with 20 points and 10 assists.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 33 points, but Indiana coach Rick Carlisle had seen the Bulls revert to "Save us, DeMar" mode plenty of times. When they tried that tactic late in the game, he started sending double-teams at DeRozan, forcing him to give up the ball.

The Bulls committed 6 turnovers in the final five minutes, 4 by Zach LaVine and 2 by Alex Caruso. The Bulls did have some nice baskets down the stretch. Ayo Dosunmu hit a baseline runner over Turner to put the Bulls ahead 106-105 with 2:53 left.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

DeRozan finished a driving lay-in to give the Bulls their final lead at 108-107 with 1:13 left. On the other end, Mathurin drained a 3-pointer to put the Pacers up by 2. Nikola Vucevic answered with a lane drive and big dunk with 41.9 seconds left. Indiana got it right back when McConnell drove and dished to Mathurin for a lay-in.

The next sequence ruined the Bulls. After a timeout, LaVine couldn't get the ball inbounds and called time. He didn't see Caruso wide open under the basket on a back cut. Coming out of the next timeout, Caruso inbounded the ball, but his pass was deflected by Buddy Hield and stolen. After a pair of free throws by Indiana, LaVine was called for traveling.

It looked like this would be a good supporting-cast game for the Bulls, as several got off to good starts. But Patrick Williams had 2 points and no rebounds in the second half, while Caruso, Coby White and Derrick Jones Jr. combined to go 0-for-11 from the field. LaVine finished the game 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

Veteran guard Goran Dragic missed his second straight game due to an illness. It's possible he will join the team for Thursday's game in Charlotte.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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