There are many things you are not accustomed to saying. Like asking if you can get a good price on a Commodore 64 at Radio Shack, how your Beanie Babies' value has got to keep rising, wishing the best for Brad and Jen, excusing yourself to spend some time on Friendster and why the Bulls are utilizing Robin Lopez more on offense because he is so unstoppable.
It actually did seem like it for much of the Bulls 105-96 loss to the Indiana Pacers Tuesday.
Because after the Bulls came all the way back from a 16-point deficit to take an 86-85 lead with 7:08 left in the game, the Pacers hit the Bulls with a 10-0 run, the Bulls forgot about their offensive powerhouse Lopez, and the Pacers escaped to a 42-23 record and season sweep of the Bulls. The Bulls dropped to 18-47 and host Jimmy Butler and the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday.
Bulls Pacers game recap
The Bulls did have one brief moment left, getting within 97-92 on a Lopez—who else!—layup and a pair of free throws from Zach LaVine among his 13 fourth quarter points. But Indiana came back with swift ball movement to find Bojan Bogdanovic open yet again for a corner three and 108-92 lead with 93 seconds left. The way the Bulls were playing, shooting four of 25 on threes, they'd have needed a few of those overtimes to get to 100.
"I thought we had good looks; they didn't go down," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "But that's not why we lost. We lost because they were tougher than us in the fourth quarter. That's where we've got to grow. For the most part on the road, we've been pretty tough in the fourth. Tonight I thought there were some 50-50 balls and some plays that we could have been more physical with."
Perhaps, though coaches say that toughness stuff a lot after losses. It seemed more likely it was a failure to recognize and repeat the mismatches Lopez continually had inside against a smaller Pacers team with Lopez scoring 20 points, the third time in the last eight scoring at least 20. LaVine had 27 points after a slow start, but it was the poorest overall game for the new big three (they don't get capitals this time) with Lauri Markkanen getting 14 points and 13 rebounds with one of seven on threes and Otto Porter seven points on one of five shooting and mostly being burned for Bogdonovic's 27 points.
"We've got to make a big shot, somebody's got to make one," pleaded Boylen. "We didn't do that and they did."
The shooting deficiency, especially from three-point range, is a flaw the Bulls know they have to address. The Bulls routinely are outscored by double digits on threes, and again by 21 points as the Pacers were 11 of 25. The Bulls were four of 25 on threes with a "hot" second half to boost the percentage. They were one of 10 on threes in the first half.
"If you look at the stats throughout the second half, I think it was pretty even both ways, maybe for the exception of the three pointers made," observed the sagacious Lopez. "But I think they had some very big offensive rebounds, some very big 50-50 balls that they secured, that kind of turned the tide of the game. I definitely think there are a lot of positives. Obviously, you always want to win. We wanted to win tonight. We're aware of our mistakes that we made and we're going to continue to push each other. We have another tough one tomorrow and we know we can go get that one."
Actually, the Bulls matched Indiana in rebounding in a relatively even second half, had more steals in the half and got to the free throw line just as frequently. It's just that the Bulls didn't seem to go far enough with their 58-38 edge in points in the paint toward remedying the disparity of the three-point line. It's where this Robin Lopez story begins to become surreal.
Last year this time, Lopez was in and out of the rotation in the youth auditions going on at the time. Then to start this season, Lopez was out of the rotation, ostensively for defensive purposes, and then the assumption was he would be traded or released to join a playoff contender.
But it's March and not only is Lopez still with the team, but he continues to personify the proverb by coming in like the lion he has been the last several weeks, roaring on the offensive end.
In the last 12 games back to early February, the 30-year-old hirsuite Lopez is averaging 16.3 points on 63 percent shooting, his scoring almost double his career average. The bigger, more physical centers can hold off Lopez since he isn't an explosive player. And he's not particularly adept rebounding because his movements are, well, let's say precise.
But when Lopez has a size and strength edge, as he did Tuesday, and with his unique new floor game and ballerina-like lightness of step, he can prove unyielding at the basket. As he was in a memorable stretch early in the third quarter when after LaVine autographed a poster dunk for Turner, in consecutive possessions Lopez spun into the paint for a hook over Myles Turner and playing the high pick and roll with LaVine as they did much of the game, Lopez faked a hand off, drove and dunked. Turner once again feigned a fall, trying to draw a charge as he'd seemingly given up trying to defend Lopez' elusive moves.
Robin Lopez's finesse at the basket
Yes, I hear myself.
With his new drop step and spin moves to work himself toward the basket, Lopez surprisingly has become something of, dare we say, an offensive force given his substantial heft at about seven-foot and 280 pounds. Lopez has the Pacers' springy center, Turner, by a few inches and at least 30 pounds. And while Turner was blocking seven shots, Lopez was ruthlessly bumping him aside—hey, did someone hit me with a feather?— and running him over, especially with a dozen third quarter points.
It's not unusual to go back to your best down the stretch, and Boylen surely would have been second guessed if he hadn't. It just wasn't the night for Markkanan and Porter, who were a combined zero for five shooting for two points in a combined almost 19 fourth quarter minutes.
"We made some simple mistakes we normally don't do," said Markkanen. "There were a couple of rebounds when there was no one there. Then other times, we had the (rebounds), but we fumbled it out. You start thinking, ‘Was it us that actually cost us the game?' or 'Did they win it?' You have to give the credit to them. They play well together. We matched up better today than we have and we were right there. But, we just have to make a couple more plays."
The Pacers were without All-Star Victor Oladipo for the rest of the season, and reserve Domantos Sabonis was out. The Bulls, of course, have their share of rookies and Denzel out. Indiana has been one of the surprise teams this season, especially with the loss of Oladipo. They're hanging onto third in the Eastern Conference, barely ahead of the 76ers. But for all their grit and obstinance not to accept the conventional wisdom of their flaws, there seems no way with this roster they could win a first round series, especially if they cannot hold onto the third spot.
Of course, that's probably why many, including Boylen Tuesday, mention Pacers coach Nate McMillan as a Coach of the Year candidate.
The Pacers play a more deliberate style, which led to the Bulls failing to score 100 points for just the second time in 26 games (the other time they scored 99). Indiana is especially adept at reacting quickly to help on defense and they have Turner to guard the rim. It often flummoxed the Bulls.
That combination left the Bulls stymied to start, trailing 16-5 to open and 27-17 after the first quarter. Porter couldn't get anything going after sitting out for rest Sunday, and Kris Dunn had foul and accuracy problems, shooting two of nine overall. The Pacers also move the ball well on offensive swings and had the Bulls heads spinning and going under screens as Indiana repeatedly found the hot shooting Bogdanovich.
Indiana made it 33-17 early in the second quarter. But it was the Bulls who hustled their way back into the game, scored on offensive rebounds four times in five possessions late in the half to get within 49-42. Boylen went with small lineups with a guard like Wayne Selden Jr. at power forward in that stretch, and again with a similar group to close the Lopez-inspired third quarter with reasonable results. Though that arrangement would be exploited later. The Bulls went into the fourth quarter trailing just 77-75
It was beginning to look like the Bulls might steal one after three straight LaVine scores, finishing with a pullup three and an Indy car power slam down the straightaway for the 86-85 lead. Indiana called a timeout within a minute of a previous one and still could not corral the new buzz cut Zach.
Zach LaVine slams the ball
With a chance to lead by three, the Pacers increased their pressure and forced a 24-second violation as Lopez and LaVine got into their dance late. LaVine's jumper swished a fraction after the buzzer. The Pacers threw the ball away, but the Bus couldn't get anything going on the next possession, either, with the starters back. LaVine threw the ball away running into a double team.
Indiana got the lead back and then Dunn missed on a curiously angled floater, LaVine and Porter missed and Bogdanovich and Darren Collison were making threes. Suddenly, it was 95-86 Indiana with under four minutes and the Bulls four-game road winning streak was soon to be over.
Because they didn't rely more on the offensive prowess of Robin Lopez? Never even thought that before. It has been that kind of season.