Pacers tie up Bulls in Central with 111-101 win
The Indiana Pacers aren't going to let a little scheduling quirk slow them down.
So they started the NBA's only three game-in-three day stretch in resounding fashion.
David West scored 29 points, Paul George finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and five assists and George Hill added 22 points, leading the Pacers past Chicago 111-101 and into a share of the Central Division lead Monday. They have now won three straight and 14 in a row at home with Atlanta coming to town Tuesday night and a trip to Philadelphia set for Wednesday night.
''It's just something where you have to make sure you're prepared,'' West said. ''We'll get our rest tomorrow. We'll figure out, in terms of execution, how we need to approach a team in Atlanta that we struggled against. We just have to be ready to play this game.''
There was no doubt they were ready for the Bulls.
Despite the defense, which is second-best in the league in points allowed and No. 1 in defensive field goal percentage, Indiana found another way to beat the Bulls -- with offense.
The Pacers made their first six field goals, shot 66.7 percent from the field in the first half, finished at 52.7 percent and produced their highest-point total in a non-overtime game all season. If they keep scoring this way, after topping the 100-point mark for the fourth time in five games, and continue to confound opponents, they will be tough to beat.
Actually, they already are.
Over the past month, the Pacers (29-19) have gone 4-0 against the Eastern Conference's other three top teams -- beating Miami twice, New York once and now taking down Chicago, the league's best road team.
If the Pacers beat the Hawks, they will have their longest home winning streak since taking 25 in a row in 1999-2000.
Indiana's recent surge has it tied for the division lead with Chicago (29-19) and behind only Miami (30-14) and New York (31-15) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.
''This is a big win for us, definitely playing against a division team,'' George Hill said. ''We played a great game and really battled.''
The Bulls didn't look like themselves, though.
Starting guards Derrick Rose (left knee) and Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) and starting center Joakim Noah (right foot) all sat out again with injuries, and they had another scare late in the first quarter when Marco Belinelli crashed to the floor clutching his right ankle. He returned later and finished with a season-high 24 points. Nate Robinson finished with 19 points, nine assists and five rebounds, and Carlos Boozer had 10 points and five rebounds as he returned from a right hamstring injury.
All of those players, other than Belinelli and Robinson, missed Saturday's 93-76 victory at Atlanta.
''I feel like we're short-handed right now, but we're competing hard and that's all you can ask for and I feel like our best basketball is yet to come,'' Noah said. ''We've just got to keep fighting and I think we'll be all right.''
Those expecting a defensive slugfest were in for a surprise.
Indiana started the game fast, making its first six shots to take a 13-2 lead, and finished the first half nearly as fast, using a 12-6 run to break a 48-48 tie to make it 60-54 at the half. The Pacers shot 66.7 percent from the field in the half.
Chicago had seven players reach double figures and continually challenged Indiana, but never had control and couldn't even forge a tie over the final 27 1/2 minutes.
Robinson opened the second half with a 3-pointer and a 20-foot jumper to close the deficit to 60-59, but a few minutes later, Indiana seized control with two quick scoring flurries.
The first came when George hit a 3-foot jumper, Lance Stephenson then completed a three-point play and Hill added a four-point play to make it 73-63 with 7:35 left in the third. Chicago answered with four straight points, and Indiana came right back with six straight to take a 79-67 lead.
''We started the game in a big hole and we had to get out of that hole,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ''Now you're scrambling and trying to give yourself a chance. I thought we were in position with five minutes to go.''
Chicago rallied again in the fourth, using an 8-0 run to close to 90-84, and it got as close as four three times.
Indiana finally sealed it with a 3 from George and two free throws from West with 1:05 to play.
''I'm proud of the way we're growing on the offensive end,'' Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ''Still a few too many turnovers, but we've made a commitment to the extra pass. When the ball is moving, we're too many weapons to be as poorly efficient as we have been.''
NOTES: It was Indiana's first regular-season home win over Chicago since March 18, 2011. ... The Bulls are 6-20 all-time at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. ... Bulls guard Marquis Teague finished with two points in his first pro appearance in his hometown. ... The Bulls lost for only the third time in nine games.