Lance Stephenson

The Indiana Pacers are back in winning form, but they needed something extra to show the league that they’re back, which means looking like a team no one wants to mess with in the playoffs. Luis Scola led six players in double figures, getting plenty of help from a red hot Lance Stephenson as they beat the Chicago Bulls 91-79.

Paul George had himself a triple double, finishing with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in another awful offensive performance from the team’s leader, hitting only 3-of-13 from the field. The Bulls, even on their bad days, make other teams look bad. But they couldn’t contain everything the Pacers threw at them, with Luis Scola having one of his best games since joining the Pacers, scoring 19 points, joined by Lance Stephenson, finishing with 15 to go with some showboating, taunting and the technical foul that followed.

Chicago are great at making teams look bad, but so are the Pacers. The Bulls were limited to 36.4% from the field, as Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer went 10-of-29 from the field. Noah had another impressive stat line of 12 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals, but Chicago had too many minutes of finding it hard to create a good shot for themselves, as the Pacers are back where they’re used to be: Great defense, which makes up for the lack of flow on offense.

This was the third time the two teams have played each other this season and the first since November 16, when the Bulls handed Indiana their first loss of the season (110-94). Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were playing for a struggling Chicago back then, and they lacked that explosiveness in a game that very hard for them to get back into after falling behind by 13 points, limited to only 36 in the second half.

There’s a very good chance these two teams meet in the conference semifinals, which means a lot of defense and growing bad blood. Two physical teams who take pride first and foremost in defense are bound to be locked in a series that is about more than just basketball. Taj Gibson fouled out and said after the game it had a lot to do with the Pacers players flopping around. Maybe he had a bit of a point, and the Pacers did gain from having him off the court and more time with Boozer: Gibson was the only Bulls player that his team was leading with during his 22 minutes, but blaming the loss on flopping instead of simply doing an awful job executing on offense and overcoming this excellent Pacers defense is nothing more than a sorry excuse.

Evan Turner scored only six points, but he did a good job, just like George, of finding others. Turner finished with 3-of-8 from the field but also had 7 assists, and showed there’s more to his game than simply being a scorer off the bench. If his presence can help free others up, and the Pacers bench if filled with players who can’t create their own shot, his trade will be something the Pacers feel paid off.

Five wins in six games, and the confidence is back up again. This isn’t a perfect team, but they never were pretty on the eyes offensively. It doesn’t matter because that “prettiness” won’t win them the NBA title. Their defense, and playing a little bit smarter, are the keys.

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