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Bulls hold off Pacers, win 7th straight

Bulls improve to 22-9 on the season

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By Sam Smith | 12.29.2014 | 8:33 p.m. CT

The Bulls Monday survived an incredible Indiana Pacers fourth quarter rally, blowing a 21-point lead before enduring for a 92-90 victory.

The win was the Bulls seventh straight and 11th in the last 12 to raise their record to 22-9. Jimmy Butler led with 27 points and Pau Gasol added 20. Derrick Rose had 17.

It was a nerve ending finish as the Pacers scored 20 consecutive points in the fourth quarter while the Bulls were going scoreless for more than seven minutes and 11 minutes without a field goal. Indiana took an 88-85 lead, but a big three from Butler on a Gasol pass out of a double team provided the winning margin.

With Paul George out all season and Lance Stephenson blown off, the Pacers play even slower than before, an incredibly deliberate game in which their only first quarter free throw was a Tom Thibodeau technical. The Bulls went to Gasol early, but in a pick and pop game against the torpid Roy Hibbert, whose ungainly crane-like movements make it difficult for him to cover outside. Gasol scored on jumpers for the first four Bulls points and had eight in the quarter as the Bulls led 22-17 after one.

Then after a good defensive stand from the reserves to start the second quarter, Butler and Rose made threes off inside/outside passes and amidst some physical play between Joakim Noah and David West the Bulls pulled away to a 47-35 halftime lead punctuated when Noah stripped West to end the quarter and Butler raced in for a dunk to beat the halftime clock.

Rose and Butler attacking the basket and the boards combined early in the third quarter to push the Bulls out to an 18-point lead. Gasol lent some steady all around play and with Mike Dunleavy on the boards and the Bulls went into the fourth quarter with an 81-65 lead. But it would not be as easy as it seemed for the Bulls and a very different fourth quarter.

Observations:

1. Jimmy Butler picked up yet another league award as East Player of the Week and continued his aggressive play as his dozen first half points got the Bulls off to a good start in Indianapolis. Butler is in the top five in free throw attempts per game with more than eight.

2. Pau Gasol displayed the amazing range of skills he has for a big man, opening the game stepping outside for jump shots against the slower Pacers’ big men and then driving later as he faced smaller defenders. Gasol is proving the most talented big man in franchise history.

3. The Bulls went cold shooting in the fourth quarter, but Indiana used a small ball game that was effective as the Bulls were slow to employ their big men inside.