Perhaps playing ugly basketball with disciplined defense added to the feeling of being counted out by almost everyone is making the Indiana Pacers do better than expected this season, beating a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls 99-90, winning for a third time in four games.
The Pacers are still 4-7 and have lost in some embarrassing ways this season, but it seems like good teams, on the road, get the best out of them. After winning in Miami, their brand of defense and plugging holes with hungry subs continues to work. Luis Scola, Solomon Hill and A.J. Price each scored 21 points in a very unlikely win over the Bulls who should do better without a point guard they’re used to seeing dressed in suits and not in a gameday jersey.
Jimmy Butler did a very good job in making up for the absentee Rose, but his 32 points were pretty much the only good thing about the Bulls’ performance. He has been Chicago’s best player so far this season, but when a frontline that’s supposed to be one of the best and deepest in the NBA is completely manhandled, his individual efforts don’t mean much. Pau Gasol scored just 12 points on 4-of-15 from the field, Taj Gibson finished with 1-of-6 and Joakim Noah forgot how to shoot (only four field goal attempts), and that pretty much sums things up.
Roy Hibbert continus to be up & down offensively, this time scoring 8 points and grabbing 7 rebounds, but he also added 5 assists and blocked three shots, not to mention the countless possession he changes just by being near the basket. There is a way of countering his presence, but the Bulls, when Rose isn’t playing, don’t have the kind of player who can attack the basket in such a way that throws Hibbert off balance.
Another way of countering Hibbert is making him guard a stretch big man like Nikola Mirotic or Doug McDermott. But Mirotic is having a very rough time in the NBA, scoring just two points in five minutes. McDermott did slightly better, scoring 7 points in 14 minutes of basketball, but the Bulls struggled finding lineups to match the Pacers’ physicality. Going small ball would have helped, but the Bulls aren’t built for that kind of style and Thibodeau wouldn’t go in that direction.
The Bulls have lost three times this season; all at home. Maybe it’s something to do with motivation, although it’s hard to believe a Thibs team actually taking their foot of the gas in any situation. It might be about adjusting badly to opponents giving more in an arena that used to be a bit more intimidating, Derrick Rose or not. The Pacers haven’t had a lot of happy moments this season. With an inconsistent offense like theirs, it might be another rare occurrence – walking away from a visit to a title contender with a win.