Bulls fall to 2-5 after losing 108-95 to the Pacers. The Bulls fell behind early and were down by double-digits from the second quarter through the end of the game. Despite making a few runs, the Pacers kept the Bulls at arms length, predominantly through the strong play of T.J. Warren & Malcolm Brogdon.
The Bulls this season were looking for an awakening, perhaps more spirited than spiritual.
And then Sunday they rested.
Which really wasn't part of the grand design. And this time it led to a 108-95 defeat to the Indiana Pacers.
"We didn't come with the appropriate edge and the appropriate fear for a tough group of guys who played hard," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "We got stumped; we got stumped."
Everyone's stumped after watching this one
The Pacers were playing without three regulars, Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who also happened to be three of their four highest scorers from last season with the other two having left as a free agents, including the Bulls' Thad Young. So the Pacers' starters included rookie center Goga Bitadze, who'd only played more than nine minutes in an NBA game once, and JaKarr Sampson from last year's Windy City Bulls. And the Bulls yet again were outrebounded as Indiana got 15 rebounds off the bench from T.J. Leaf, one of three T.J's on the Pacers, despite Leaf totaling 10 rebounds in the Pacers' previous five games combined.
The Pacers are 3-3. The Bulls fell to 2-5 and come home Tuesday to play the Los Angeles Lakers.
We're running out of adjectives to quantify the level of these losses, now to Charlotte, the Knicks, Cleveland and the Pacers without a single player from last season's team who averaged in double figures scoring.
"We've got to win games that we are supposed to win," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 21 points on four of eight threes and was tied for second most with six rebounds. "They had three of their starters out. They came in and played harder and kicked our (butt). We're just not there yet. It's a new group. We have a new offense, new defense, bunch of new guys."
Though LaVine apparently realized what he was saying.
"Same excuse everyone else says." he sighed. "We've just got to try to put it together sooner or later or it will get too late."
Wendell Carter Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth double/double in the last five games, shooting nine of 10 all inside. He played well. LaVine was the only Bull to make more than one three pointer while Young's predictable effort off the bench clashed with the relative ennui around him.
Lauri Markkanen had 11 points and six rebounds and Otto Porter Jr. was one for 10 shooting for four points after suffering a twisted ankle, though he remained in the game. Rookie Coby White was zero for six shooting with one point and has appeared uncertain and hesitant after his strong start. Now he looks 19. Facing more defensive pressure, he's been passing up shots. The Bulls said they were at full health for the first time this season with everyone available, though Boylen said he held out Chandler Hutchison to remain cautious.
BullsTV Recap of the game
Unfortunately, the team appeared to exhibit a bit too much caution to start the game, letting the anonymous Pacers lead 16-10 and 24-18 after one quarter.
That's right, the Bulls came out over confident, Boylen suggested.
"I was saying before the game that this was one of few times in the last couple of years it looked like we were the favored team," said Boylen. "We talked about how it doesn't matter who's playing in the league. We've been the team shorthanded. We beat Miami last year, we beat Philadelphia last year, we beat teams on the road. We've been the shorthanded team that came out and scrapped it and junkyard dogged it and beat teams that maybe we shouldn't have beaten. So we've lived it. We haven't been the team that's favored very often. And maybe that's the lesson we've got to learn. That whether you're favored or not, or whether they're hurt or not, you've got to bring it. And hopefully we can bring that lesson."
With these many lessons we might refer to Bulls players soon as PhDs.
"It's very concerning," Young admitted. "You're supposed to take advantage of these opportunities. Teams are limping in. We've played several teams that haven't had their star guys. We're trying to cruise into games. We don't have that type of leeway. Playing one-on-one, letting guys drive. They're straight line driving us and there's no help. The guy on the ball has to do a better job. That's not saying anybody on the team. That's myself included. We gotta man up and make sure we take care of business."
Boylen likes to talk about grit and edge and a lot of those familiar cliches about being tough, though there still is no tackling. The Bulls are breaking down regularly in teamwork, though as everyone still says they're getting used to one another. Of course, like LaVine noted, so are teams like the Pacers.
"We played with combinations tonight we've never played with or practiced with," said Pacers coach Nate McMillan. "You can't drop your head when put in situations where you haven't been playing. You have to be ready to play and I thought our guys came ready to play and do their jobs."
Boylen pointed out the Pacers didn't play off screens much on offense, which he attributed possibly to the Bulls aggressive pick and roll scheme. However, Pacers guards led by T.J. Warren with 26 points and Malcolm Brogdon with 22 points repeatedly drove by defenders. As Young pointed out, Bulls teammates often were more spectators than participants. Conversely, the Pacers didn't rely on switching or blitzes to combat the Bulls pick and roll. They battled over screens and played more resolutely. The Bulls pursuing threes attempted nine in the first quarter and two free throws despite the Pacers with Bitadze and Sampson. KYP! as broadcaster Stacey King often repeats.
"They spread us out and drove it at us, one on one, mano a mano," said Boylen.
On offense, the Bulls relied on two-man games with two players generally involved and others observing. It led to the offensive stagnation Boylen again mentioned.
"I thought tonight we had some good (shots) we didn't make," said Boylen. "I'm hoping that turns for us. I thought in the second half the ball moved better. We lost the first quarter by six. I think that tells you where we were to start the game. I thought we were stagnant in the first half. I thought our energy at the offensive end was poor, and then I thought we weren't strong enough going through the lane. I thought we got stripped a bunch of times in the paint. We have to be stronger with it. There's defensive toughness and offensive toughness, too. I thought we were lacking at both ends."
Boylen said he instructed Markkanen to drive the ball after he started the game shooting three pointers, though Markkanen didn't get a shot the first nine minutes. Then in the third quarter just after Markkanen finished a fast break with a flying dunk for a three-point attempt, he went out in his usual rotation. Though the Bulls were trailing by 11 at the time, and then by 12 after three quarters.
While the concept of having multiple players make plays sounds encouraging, the Bulls have had issues because of the difficulty making decisions. It seems to result in that stagnation without a classic playmaker. Carter was excellent once again, opening the game playing in concert with LaVine. It went well, though it often left others to contemplate. The Bulls made five of their first eight shots, but then the threes started missing and the Pacers led 24-16 after one quarter. LaVine seemed to have his long shot on target with back to back threes that got the Bulls to 35-34 midway through the second quarter. But no other Bull could make a three the rest of the quarter. If not for a strong sequence from Carter with a pair of good finishes from Tomas Satoransky passes, the Bulls would have been desperate. Still, they trailed 55-42 at the half.
"People were picking us to win some games early on, and we haven't done it so we have to respond," said Ryan Arcidiaconio. "We've got to stay positive, keep our energy up, keep great attitudes and just know that if we play a full 48 minutes, if we play harder than other teams, then everything will work out."
The Bulls showed more offensive life in the third quarter, shooting 57 percent. But the Pacers basically matched that and led 86-74 entering the fourth quarter. There still was time with Sampson missing all four of his free throw attempts and the free-shooting Holiday brothers, Aaron and Justin, missing six of their nine threes. Doug McDermott missed three of his four. The Bulls got within 96-88 with five minutes left.
But Brogdon blew past Bulls defenders on switches in which no one helped out and Satoransky committed three turnovers in a 30-second stretch to send the Bulls home like Butch and the Sundance Kid. No, not the last part. Who are those guys? Perhaps the Bulls have to ask that about themselves, also.