By Jon R. LaFollette (@JonFilet)
Though the Pacers were plagued by familiar ills Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – turnovers and stretches of bland offensive execution – they defeated the Chicago Bulls 97-80 and improved to 5-0 for the first time since becoming an NBA franchise in 1976.
Veteran forward David West had his best game of the season, scoring 17 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and grabbing 13 rebounds and three steals.
Paul George led all scorers with 21 points.
Both teams played a similar style of grit-and-grind basketball focused on defense and hogging the glass. Last year, each team was top ten in opponent’s field goal percentage and rebounds per game.
The first half was to Chicago’s liking: turgid, slow and sloppy. Though the Bulls shot a mundane 42 percent, they attempted 14 free throws – ten more than an Indiana squad without George Hill for a third straight game (bruised hip).
With a grizzly halftime score of 43-37, it appeared the first to 80 point would win.
The Pacers, as they’ve often done in the early part of the season, however, played almost a complete game in the second half, finding their stride on offense while locking down on the defensive end – Indy held Chicago to 5-of-20 shooting in the third quarter.
The decisive moment came early in the fourth and was initiated by backup forward Luis Scola, an agile Argentinian big man acquired in an offseason trade with Phoenix.
Down by two with 8:38 to go, Scola did what last year’s bench rarely could – score points in a hurry.
With his quickness and soft hands, Scola, who scored eight of his 12 points in the final period, drained a trio of mid-range jumpers and got an easy transition layup after coming away with a steal.
Sparked by Scola’s energy, Indiana closed on a 32-15 run.
This was the first of four meetings between the Central Division foes who have downplayed the notion of the series being a rivalry.
“People say that it’s a rivalry, but I don’t really see it,” Bulls superstar point guard Derrick Rose said in a recent interview with ESPN’s Nick Friedell. “I say the team that is more like a rivalry is when [former Pacers guard] Darren Collison was on the team. That one was more like a rivalry.”
Not a rivalry?
Tell that to the rest of the players, who played with playoff style physicality for 48 minutes.
Tell that to coaches Frank Vogel and Tom Thibadeau, who stomped and roared about the sideline like it was Game 7.
Tell that to the fans who watched the game and experienced a tension not commonly found in the fifth game of a long regular season.
Tell that Paul George, who isn’t afraid of these Bulls.
“Their success is the Michael Jordan era,” George said to NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner. “This is a new age, this is a new team. It’s ours till they take it.”
Brief Notes: Roy Hibbert recorded five blocks. Hibbert has blocked at least one shot in 20 straight games.
Ian Mahinmi left the game with a sprained right ankle. After the game he said he was fine and expects to play Friday when the Pacers host Toronto.