Bulls come out flat against Pacers, fall to 12-6

Chicago had a tough shooting night (36.5% from the field, 21% from three) in their Monday night 109-77 loss to Indiana.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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The Bulls Monday let go of the rope.

They didn't seem to realize it was hanging about 100 feet above Madison Street. Talk about falling back to earth. And so this nascent Bulls dream season experienced its first nightmare in a 109-77 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Sometimes you have to go old school, but that doesn't mean being Paul Zipser, Khalid El-Amin and Lonny Baxter

There's really not much to say about this one, though in deference to the good spirited and still enthusiastic paying customers and enough of those who passed on Dancing with the Stars, we'll say something. Yuuuch, for a start. The Bulls have reached considerable heights now in a 12-6 start, but as the saying goes, "If at first you don't succeed… skydiving is not for you."

The Bulls showed up for this one without a parachute. The comedian Bob Hope used to joke that he performed for 12 presidents, but he entertained just six. It sort of was like that for the Bulls and their fans Monday as the team was out there, though not particularly entertaining.

Well, most of them were out there as dynamo igniter Alex Caruso was a late scratch with a wrist problem that he initially suffered last week in Los Angeles. Yes, in a game. Nikola Vucevic is out of the house, but not yet ready to get into a game after a virus bout. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Vucevic will be with the team for the game in Houston Wednesday.

But Chicago, we had a problem.

It had a lot to do with size, shooting and self determination.

The bigger Pacers with a massive 59-38 rebounding margin offered evidence to all those who have continued to demand another taller person for the Bulls. Vooch is coming soon. Watch the trailer.

The Bulls didn't shoot well, which happens, but they continue to attempt the fewest three pointers in the league. And this time it had an effect with the Pacers making 13 to six for the Bulls. Though perhaps more worrisome is not only the pale 13 Bulls assists on 31 baskets, but that the assist totals have been dropping the last two weeks. Other than the win over the Lakers last week, the Bulls in the last six games have averaged fewer than 20 assists per game for a team that has been succeeding with unselfish and expedited play.

This time when the Pacers came out running and jumping and making shots the Bulls mostly seemed to admire them, a 17-5 Indiana start, 26-9 and you get the idea. It was Pacers by 15 after the first quarter, 21 at halftime after a bit of Javonte Green knocked Indiana to eight briefly in the second quarter, 89-61 after three quarters, and then hello Marko Simonovic, welcome to the NBA. He made a free throw and now forever is in the NBA Encyclopedia.

The Bulls would prefer to flush this one, if not Donovan.

Tap to watch Billy Donovan's postgame press conference after Chicago's loss to Indiana on Monday night.

Coaches after a game like this will sometimes gather the players in the toilet—no, not for that—and flush in a symbolic message to just let the effluent go.

"I've never been a believer in just flushing the game, (that) it didn't happen," said Donovan. "No, it did happen. That's exactly what happened and we have to own it, coaches, players, everybody. I don't think that's who our team has been over this early part of this stretch. These guys have been resilient and they've worked. It was a game we didn't play great. Maybe because Indiana played well and forced us into not playing great. But how do we make that next step to get better from this? Over an 82-game schedule, nights like this happen. But if it catapults us going forward to make us better, OK great. But if it's not something that helps us, then I think it's a missed opportunity."

Imagine how much they could learn with a few more of these.

Though Donovan also was frank. I mean Billy.

"I thought we were clearly outplayed by Indiana on both ends of the floor," Donovan admitted. "They without question were the better team from start to finish. We missed some good looks and as they were scoring, I thought they made some tougher shots than we had. As the game started to get into double figures we started, 'We've got to get it back, we've got to get it back.' And then I thought we got stagnant, ball didn't move well enough and we didn't generate enough for each other.

"We're not getting the game back," Donovan emphasized, "but there is a standard and expectation we expect to play to and tonight was not that. I'm not taking anything away from Indiana. They played very, very well. But I do think how we learn from this and how we respond to this is really important. How do we get from here to there in terms of becoming a better team?"

Good for Donovan, always the teacher, always teaching accountability.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had 17, the only two Bulls to score in double figures. But they also were part of the problem, perhaps also because of how much responsibility they've taken on for this team in becoming the highest scoring duo in the NBA. And, yes, for all the Caruso drive and Green hustle and Derrick Jones jumping, a very, very big part of this has been made possible by what those two guys have been doing.

DeMar DeRozan shoots a fadeaway over Pacers guard Kelan Martin.

DeMar DeRozan shoots a fadeaway over Pacers guard Kelan Martin.

So when the ship began to sink, they went for buckets. But mostly without a brigade.

"My mindset is always to keep fighting, try to be aggressive and try to make something happen," said LaVine. "Try to get a little bit of momentum. We tried to get back into the game and it just didn't happen for us tonight. They started from the jump. They were there a day before us waiting; we played last night. They just jumped us from the beginning. Just one of them days. Sometimes the ball don't go in the hoop, sometimes things don't go your way. Just had a bad day. Lose by 30, lose by two; you still lose."

LaVine and DeRozan did try what they could, though both began searching for their own shot a bit too much. No doubt watching courtside fans asking for hardhats the way most of the other players were shooting. LaVine was the only starter to make a three. Coby White starting for Caruso and Lonzo Ball were two of 17 overall combined and zero for seven on threes. The bench remains an offense challenged in progress with no one scoring in double figures despite expanded playing time because of the score.

And, yes, the size mattered this time as the speed, quickness and annoyance wasn't much of a factor with the Pacers getting a dozen blocks, four by Myles Turner, and Domantas Sabonis spinning in the lane for 21 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulls had just five offensive rebounds, just six steals and were outscored 19-7 on fast breaks. Indiana won all those categories the Bulls rely on to offset their lack of size.

"We are going to end up being an opportunist offensive rebounding team," Donovan acknowledged. "A lot of long rebounds, using our speed and quickness. Probably not going to offensive rebound on missed shots close to the rim by physically moving people out of the way. Shots go up and we punch a ball out or come up with a loose ball. That's kind of how we offensive rebound, on hustle plays more than getting in there and moving people out."

Likewise, Donovan to his credit is not one for excuses. Despite Caruso's impact, Donovan said he wouldn't have made much difference the way the Bulls played this time. As for the second of the back to back and injuries, Donovan noted the Bulls got to play Denver without Nikola Jokic and the Knicks were on the second of a back to back when they traveled to Chicago for Sunday's game. And as for that zone defense the Pacers played at times, Donovan was mostly dismissive since Pacers coach Rick Carlisle has been known to be the main zone adherent in the NBA for the last decade. It was no surprise. "Nothing we weren't expecting," Donovan said.

The Bulls had plenty of good looks. They just didn't look good after taking them.

Zach LaVine shoots a jumper over Pacers forward Damontas Sabonis

Zach LaVine shoots a jumper over Pacers forward Damontas Sabonis.

"We just didn't have it tonight," LaVine concluded. "That's what happens. We play ‘em four times a year; just get ready for Houston. The fun thing about this is you get to go out there and show what it is instead of always talking (about it)."

Is Texas the Show Me state? It's the Lone Star state presumably because Luka is the only All-Star.

The Bulls Thanksgiving Eve get another chance to show up and show everyone they were only turkeys for a day.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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