Keys to the Game: Bulls at Pacers (02.15.21)

The Bulls tip-off a three-game road trip with a one-night stand in Indianapolis, taking on their Central Division rivals, the Indiana Pacers for the second time this year.

Led by Domantas Sabonis' triple double of 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, the Pacers used big scoring runs in the second and third quarters to cruise to a 125-106 victory in the first meeting at the United Center in late December.

T.J. Warren scored 23 points, and the since traded Victor Oladipo added 22 as the Pacers beat the Bulls for a 10th straight time, including five in a row in Chicago.

Zach LaVine scored 17 points and Lauri Markkanen had 16 and nine rebounds for the Bulls.

Chicago got off to a fairly good start in the first meeting, building a 40-34 advantage early into the second quarter. But the game quickly turned when Indiana ran off 21 straight points to grab a 55-40 lead. The Bulls went 0-for-8 from the field and turned the ball over six times during the drought. Three of those turnovers occurred in the backcourt after the Pacers ambushed Chicago with a full-court trap.

Defensively, the Bulls completely fell apart, allowing the Pacers to roam free in the paint and stack easy baskets.

Indiana enjoyed a 66-56 halftime lead and started the third quarter with 18 straight points to grab an 84-56 edge, essentially putting the game away. Chicago missed its first seven shots of the stanza and didn't score until a Markkanen layup with 7:12 left in the quarter.

The Bulls were able to rally late, trimming their deficit to 114-103 with just under four minutes to play, but then Warren converted a layup and Oladipo added a 3-pointer to build Indy's lead back up to 119-103, and eventually went on to win by 19 points.

All-in-all, Indiana took advantage of a lot of Chicago defensive lapses, posting a 76-34 edge in points scored in the paint.

Bulls guards Tomáš Satoranský and Garrett Temple, who each missed much of the preseason because of COVID-19 protocols, returned to contribute off the bench. Satoranský finished with six points and nine assists in 25 minutes, while Temple had six points in 20 minutes.

Without a doubt, a primary key for the Bulls will be how they're able to keep turnovers in check while at the same time freely share the ball with each other. Chicago got off to a rough start this season by turning the ball over at a ridiculous pace, at one time averaging over 20 a game. But over their last 10 outings, Chicago has cut that number to a far more reasonable 13.5.

For the Bulls' offense to run smoothly, the ball must freely skip from player-to-player and from side-to-side. Quick, decisive passing forces defenses to scramble. It also helps open driving lanes through the paint for uncontested dunks/layups, as well as unfettered looks at the rim from outside.

No team can ever afford to stand around and watch one player attempt to take on the defense all by himself. There needs to be constant player and ball movement, in and out of the paint, to generate an effective, free-flowing offensive rhythm.

So, after falling to the LA Clippers their last time on the floor, the Bulls will need to come in focused and reenergized tonight. They must deliver a hardnosed effort on both sides of the ball, and especially so on the glass, and deny Indiana any hope of governing play in the paint.

A principal key for Chicago every game is to play fast, as well as continue to fine tune its ability to effectively communicate, and work together, both offensively and defensively. As the season has progressed the Bulls have gotten better in every aspect of the game.

The Pacers are a deep and talented team, but one thing the Bulls can always bring with them is desire, and the willingness, and fortitude to out hustle every opponent by refusing to back down from any and all challenges. They can't hang their heads if they hit a rough patch. Every possession matters. Every shot matters. Every rebound opportunity matters. The teams that want it the most are the ones that succeed. Chicago has to execute its game plan and go all out every time they hit the hardwood.