Bulls run into buzz saw, lose by 32 to Pacers at United Center
The Bulls looked like a team playing the second half of a back-to-back. Now coach Billy Donovan wants to see how they react after the embarrassment.
Throw the video from the game Monday into the garbage.
No need to cut it up for a film session or even to talk about it before the Bulls board their flight Tuesday to Houston.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t lessons to be learned from the embarrassing 109-77 loss to the Pacers at the United Center, and coach Billy Donovan will be watching closely to see how his team responds.
‘‘We’re not getting the game back, but there is a standard we expect to play to,’’ Donovan said afterward. ‘‘I’m not taking anything away from Indiana; they played well on both ends of the floor. I do think what we learn from this and how we respond to this will be important. How do we get from here to there? I’ve never been one to say, ‘Flush it, it didn’t happen.’ No, it did happen. In an 82-game schedule, nights like this happen.’’
The NBA schedule features trap games throughout a season, whether they’re the second games of back-to-backs, games after long road trips out West or just an opposing team with a chip on its shoulder.
In the case of the game against the Pacers, the Bulls were up against all of that.
Then again, the Bulls also consider themselves to be an elite team in the Eastern Conference. That means understanding that off-shooting nights take place, but they shouldn’t dictate the entire energy of the game.
It did for the Bulls (12-6), however, and that was evident right from the opening tip.
A three-pointer by the Pacers’ Justin Holiday greeted the Bulls to start the evening. But after a jumper by DeMar DeRozan and a three-pointer from Zach LaVine, it appeared the Bulls were ready to foil another opponent’s game plan.
The Pacers had different ideas, however, putting a shell on LaVine and DeRozan whenever they had the ball and using a heavy dose of zone defense, daring the other Bulls to attack. Big man Tony Bradley actually did for a bit, making back-to-back shots at the rim midway through the first quarter before things quickly fell apart.
By the end of the quarter, the Bulls trailed 31-16. They allowed the Pacers to shoot 54.2% from the field and 4-for-10 from three-point range in the quarter and shot 31.8% from the field and 1-for-8 from behind the arc themselves. They also were outrebounded 17-8.
By the end of the first half, the Bulls trailed by 21.
‘‘It wasn’t anything they hadn’t shown,’’ Donovan said of the Pacers’ zone. ‘‘I didn’t really think we attacked that very well. We didn’t move in space well enough. It wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting. We felt like it was coming, and we could have done a better job than we did.’’
The Bulls finished the game with 13 assists — evidence of just how stagnant their offense was — and Donovan didn’t want to use guard Alex Caruso (bruised wrist) being a late scratch as an excuse.
Caruso’s defense would have helped, but the Pacers still shot 41.9% from three-point range and outrebounded the Bulls 59-38.
‘‘Just had a bad day,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘Lose by 30 or lose by two, you still lose. Just take it as a learning experience. I think they hit us first, and we couldn’t respond to it. And they just kept going. Offensively, defensively, we just didn’t have it.’’
Now it’s back on the road for the Bulls, albeit against much lesser competition in the Rockets and Magic.
If there was any good news, Donovan said center Nikola Vucevic will travel with the team, but his playing status in his return from a bout with the coronavirus is still unknown.