Joakim Noah

With every week and every win that goes by, the Chicago Bulls look more and more like a team that it’s impossible to ignore when talking about contenders for the NBA title, or at least the Eastern conference championship, with their 89-77 win over the Indiana Pacers proving to another defining moment for a team that finds wins the hard way.

Games between the Bulls and the Pacers are never pretty, but for those who love teams that think on defense and a physical battle from the first minute to the 48th, this is a pair of teams you’d love to see in the playoffs. One might argue that the Pacers have a bit more offensive talent than the Bulls, but something has happened to both teams over the course of this season to slightly reverse the rolls.

The Bulls created their version of the center-point guard, with Joakim Noah putting up another impressive stat line that doesn’t even begin to describe his influence and importance for this team on both ends of the floor. He wasn’t far from a triple double or the rare 5×5: 10 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks, and making Roy Hibbert play some very bad basketball with some excellent defense on the big man.

Taj Gibson, pure energy in a 6’9, 225 lbs frame, got off to his usual posterizing dunks, followed by primal scream celebrations. His best came off a Jimmy Butler miss, rising above David West and rocking the rim. He led the Bulls with 23 points and 8 rebounds, once again providing a very nice counter to Carlos Boozer, finding it a bit more difficult to get on the scoreboard with 9 points (3-of-10 from the field) and 10 rebounds.

The Pacers once again looked slow – both in their minds and their feet, and playing slow, predictable offense is a sin against the Bulls. Chicago didn’t exactly look like the Spurs out there, but they did enough in transition and moved the ball well enough to create decent shots from outside the paint to always look like they’re a step ahead of the Pacers, who are seeing their lead at the top of the Eastern conference, there since the beginning of the season, slowly disappear.

Indiana shot just 37% from the field, as Paul George did lead them with 21 points but had another rough night with 21 points, getting help from George Hill (17) and David West (14). The bench? Evan Turner and Luis Scola combined to score only 5 points on 2-of-8 from the field, and without that tandem bringing meaningful contribution during their minutes, the Pacers’ dominance during the regular season will be going to waste.

The Bulls got a solid shooting night from both Kirk Hinrich, scoring 18 points, and Mike Dunleavy adding 13. He also had 8 rebounds and 4 assists, continuing to provide a lot more than just outside shooting, which was supposed to be his role off the bench when the Bulls first brought him over. Jimmy Butler had 12 points and played some excellent defense, as always, while getting more rest than he’s used to with “only” 33 minutes on the floor, compared to the 40 plus we’re used to seeing him spend each night.

Image: Source