THE FACTS: Take Danny Granger (sore left knee), David West (sprained lower back), Joakim Noah (strained left foot) and Derrick Rose (sore left knee) from the Pacers and the Bulls, and what do you have left? The Indianapolis Olympians and the Chicago Stags in the pre-shot clock era, that's what. In a scrum between two of the premier defensive teams in the league, the Bulls grinded out an 87-84 victory, their first against the Pacers this season and only their second in the last six games.
Forward Luol Deng snapped out a recent funk to score a team-high 20 points, while forward Carlos Boozer contributed 18 points and 10 rebounds. Seldom-used reserve guard Daequan Cook was the unsung hero. He finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and a bruised left thigh, the result of a header over a television cameraman late in the fourth quarter. The Pacers were led by forward Paul George (23 points, 11 rebounds) and center Roy Hibbert (18 points, 12 rebounds).
The Bulls moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race, one-half game behind the Atlanta Hawks, while the Pacers saw their magic number to clinch the Central Divison title remain at eight.
QUOTABLE I: "It's just very tough to beat a team four times (in one season). Tonight (the difference) was their defense. They made it tough to score. We struggled to score all night."
-- Pacers head coach Frank Vogel.
QUOTABLE II: "That is the way we have to play. We have to do it collectively. A lot of guys stepped up."
-- Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
THE STAT: The Pacers were limited to 17 points in the fourth period, when they bricked 16-of-20 field goal attempts. George wasn't a factor down the stretch partly because of foul trouble.
TURNING POINT: In the final seconds of the third period, Bulls guard Nate Robinson lost the ball in traffic at one end then dragged Pacers counterpart Lance Stephenson down from behind at the other. He was socked with a flagrant 2 foul and ejected from the game. The Pacers failed to cash in on a possible four- or five-point sequence, however, as the woozy Stephenson could only split two free throws, after which George missed a 3-point try. Then Cook drove the length of the court to give his team a 68-67 lead that it would protect the rest of the way.
QUOTABLE III: "The only way you can stop a guy is to do something like that, so (Robinson) probably had no choice. He was just playin' ball."
HOT: Bulls reserve forward Taj Gibson came to life in the fourth quarter, when he scored seven points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked one shot.
QUOTABLE IV: "I'm just trying to be myself again, flying all over the place and creating havoc on defense."
NOT: In the final quarter, George shot 1-of-6 in the field and 0-of-4 from beyond the arc.
GOOD MOVE: The Pacers were quick to take advantage of the absence of Noah in the middle. In the first quarter, Hibbert had eight points and one assist to establish an early tone.
QUOTABLE V: "(Noah) is not a guy you necessarily game-plan for, but obviously, any time you play against (the Bulls), he's the first guy you think about in terms of their No. 1 warrior. He leads them in their collective will and determination."
BAD MOVE: In the final minute, Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich committed an ill-advised foul that resulted in a four-point play and a three-point game. After Hinrich failed to convert a layup seconds later, George missed a pair of three-pointers, the first on which he was open in the deep left corner.
NOTABLE: The Pacers fell short in their bid to sweep the season series for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign. ... Noah had played some of his best ball of the season in recent weeks. In his last 10 games, he averaged 14.7 points and 12.4 rebounds and shot 58 percent in the field and 89 percent at the free throw line. ... In the last previous nine seasons, a Thibodeau-coached team ranked first or second in opponents field goal percentage in all except one of them. This season the Bulls (.432) rank seventh overall, while the Pacers (.414) lead the league.
UP NEXT: For the Pacers, Monday @ Atlanta, Wednesday @ Houston, Thursday @ Dallas. For the Bulls, Sunday @ Minnesota, Wednesday vs. Miami, Saturday @ Dallas.