For the third time this season, a game between the Pacers and the Bulls came down to the final possession. And just as they did twice in Chicago, the Bulls (37-37) held off the Pacers (39-35), coming away with a 98-96 win on Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that snapped a four-game skid and breathed new life into the Bulls' playoff hopes.
With the win, Chicago climbs within two games of Indiana for the East's final playoff spot with just eight games remaining in the regular season. More importantly, Tuesday's victory gave Chicago the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pacers by virtue of winning the regular season series, 3-1.
"The same game, losing the same way, it's frustrating," Pacers forward Paul George said after the loss. "It's real frustrating."
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As always seems to be the case when these two Central Division rivals clash, this particular contest was tightly contested throughout the night. The two sides were tied at 84 entering the fourth quarter before Chicago opened the period with a 9-2 run.
Indiana answered by scoring the next eight points, taking the lead on Myles Turner's jumper with 5:46 to play. George's Hill layup with 3:03 remaining broke a prolonged scoreless stretch by both teams before Nikola Mirotić's 3-pointer with 2:19 to play — Chicago's first points in nearly seven minutes — tied the game at 96.
The score remained the same until the final seconds. With the shot clock turned off, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg drew up a play for All-Star guard Jimmy Butler at the top of the key. With Paul George guarding him, Butler went around a Mirotić screen and drained an open jumper from inside the right elbow that put Chicago in front with 3.7 seconds remaining.
"It was kind of a miscommunication," Pacers center Ian Mahinmi said about the Pacers' defense on Butler's game-winner.
"We fell short. It's painful. It's one of those games that we feel like we should have took, but there's plenty to learn."
The Blue & Gold had a chance to win it at the buzzer, but C.J. Miles' 3-pointer just missed and Chicago escaped with another narrow victory.
Butler might have won the game, but Mirotić was the star for Chicago on this particular night. Chicago's versatile big man led all scorers with 28 points and 10 rebounds, going 7-for-13 from behind the 3-point line.
"He just stayed hot," Pacers forward Solomon Hill said after the loss. "The ones that he missed were the ones where we left him wide open. He made all his contested shots."
Butler added 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, while Pau Gasol made his presence felt all over the box score, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and four blocks.
George led Indiana with 20 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. Two days after matching his career high with 19 points in a win over the Rockets, Mahinmi gave the Pacers another surprising lift off the bench. The fashionable Frenchman went 9-for-12 from the field and finished with 18 points and seven boards in the loss.
"I felt good," Mahinmi said. "I feel like my teammates find me every time I'm open...I'm in a good rhythm right now."
The two teams traded punches in the early going on Monday night. The first 15 minutes featured seven ties and 10 lead changes before the Bulls started to open up the first significant lead of the night.
Chicago's bench caught fire from beyond the arc in the latter half of the second quarter. After Doug McDermott buried a jumper plus the foul, the second-year swingman followed by knocking down a triple on the Bulls' next possession. Aaron Brooks added a triple of his own a minute later and then Mirotić took over.
The Montenegrin big man knocked down four straight threes over a 1:46 stretch, allowing Chicago to open up a 10-point lead. The Pacers, however, answered with an 8-0 run of their own to cut the deficit to just two points heading into halftime.
When Turner picked up his fourth foul just 58 seconds into the third quarter, reserve forward Lavoy Allen checked into the game and provided a big impact off the bench. Allen scored seven points in the first half of the third quarter, including a vicious putback dunk off a Monta Ellis miss.
Allen's contributions helped Indiana surge back in front. The Pacers led by as many as seven points in the third, but Chicago rallied back eventually tying the game by the end of the period. Things briefly looked even worse for Indiana fans when Paul George went down with a leg injury in the closing seconds of the quarter, but the three-time All-Star returned to action midway through the fourth quarter.
The good news for the Pacers is that the schedule gets easier over the next few games. Indiana's next three contests are all against teams outside the playoff picture. The Pacers close out a three-game homestand by hosting Orlando on Thursday, then hit the road for games in Philadelphia and New York over the weekend.
Inside the Numbers
George and Mahinmi were the only Pacers players to finish in double figures, but all of the nine other players to see the floor scored at least four points and seven of them scored six or more.
Backup point guard Ty Lawson hit his first four shots and scored all eight of his points in the first half. Those eight points are Lawson's most since signing with Indiana on March 7.
Chicago won a low-scoring fourth quarter, 14-12. The Bulls endured a 6:40 scoreless drought before Mirotić's late three and Indiana failed to score over the final 3:03.
The Pacers outscored Chicago in the paint, 52-38.
Led by Mirotić, the Bulls outscored Indiana by 21 points from beyond the arc. Chicago went 10-for-26 from 3-point range (38.5 percent) while the Pacers were just 3-for-19 (15.8 percent).
You Can Quote Me On That
"Too many lost possessions on the offensive end, seven turnovers, we settled for perimeter shots, zero free throws and we missed some open looks." -Pacers head coach Frank Vogel on Indiana's offensive struggles in the fourth quarter
"They executed down the stretch. I tip my hat to the Bulls. They executed, they got good looks, got some big offensive rebounds and Mirotić got hot." -George
"The fact that Mirotić got hot forced us to play a little smaller. We had to switch any pick and rolls with him involved. It took us one half to make the adjustment." -Mahinmi
"The option was for me to shoot the ball. If I wasn't open I was going to pass it. I got a great screen by Niko (Mirotić), it was a great play call by coach." -Butler on his game-winning shot
"I felt great. Coach found me some open shots and I was able to hit them but it’s about the defense. Now we have to carry this effort over to Houston." -Mirotić
Stat of the Night
How evenly matched have the Pacers and Bulls been this season? Indiana's three losses have come by a mere five total points.
- Bulls starting forward Taj Gibson played just 10:19 in the first half before leaving the game with a rib contusion.
- George made two 3-pointers on the night, giving him 197 on the season. He is now alone in second place on the franchise list of most threes made in a single season, trailing only Reggie Miller's 229 treys during the 1996-97 campaign.
- Indiana is 82-94 all-time against the Bulls, with a 58-31 record in games played in Indianapolis.
- With the win, Chicago improves to 6-10 on the year when playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Pacers welcome the Orlando Magic on Thursday for the final game of a three-game homestand. Good seats still remain for the matchup with Victor Oladipo & Company: Find Tickets »