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Bulls beat Pacers in overtime as Wendell Carter Jr. returns from injury

Carter was expected to be out at least another week with a bruised right quadriceps, but he returned earlier than expected and caused some problems for the Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis when the two were matched up.

Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. drives on Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis on Monday night in Indianapolis.
Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. drives on Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis on Monday night in Indianapolis.
Michael Conroy/AP

Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t play big minutes and didn’t put up particularly big numbers in his return from a bruised right quadriceps.

It was a great result, however, as the Bulls avenged an embarrassing early-season loss to the Pacers by controlling the game most of the way en route to a 120-112 overtime victory Monday in Indianapolis.

Carter’s return not only was welcomed by his teammates, but it was felt by the Pacers.

‘‘I thought he did some good things,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘He played good defense; his presence was felt. He looked good physically. He just needs to get his timing and rhythm back.’’

In returning earlier than expected from his injury, Carter — who had missed the last 11 games — brought some physicality to a Bulls team that really needed it. Look no further than his matchup with Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis for evidence of that.

In the first meeting between the teams in December, Sabonis dominated Carter, registering a triple-double and finishing a plus-16. Meanwhile, Carter scored only nine points in that game and was a minus-20.

In the rematch, Sabonis had trouble when Carter was on him most of the night. And while he finished with 25 points, he also committed eight turnovers and was a minus-12.

Carter, meanwhile, logged 11 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes to help the Bulls end their eight-game losing streak in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

‘‘We left everything out there,’’ reserve guard Tomas Satoransky said. ‘‘We showed we were ready for the moment.’’

And not just Carter. On a night in which there were plenty of backs to slap, Zach LaVine scored 30 points and Thad Young added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

And while Carter does have his faults — specifically staying healthy — Donovan knows exactly what his return meant on both ends of the floor.

‘‘I felt like he was getting a little bit more comfortable offensively in that role as a facilitator [before the injury],’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I thought early on in the year it was a work in progress. I thought right before the injury he was showing some good improvements in terms of when to make passing decisions and when to make driving decisions. I think he was getting back to offensive rebounding.

‘‘Certainly, his length and size at the basket help us defensively. There have been times we’ve been small and haven’t had great rim protection. He’s always been a pretty good rim protector with his size and length in the lane and just his athleticism.

‘‘Yeah, we missed his screening. I always say this: When you miss out on a player that certainly plays a vital and important role, it impacts your team.’’

Because of the time he missed, Carter wasn’t available for overtime. But the physicality he established early on seemed to set a tone.

Garrett Temple started off the scoring in overtime with a six-footer, which was followed by a ridiculous step-back three-pointer by Denzel Valentine. After the Pacers’ T.J. McConnell made a mid-range shot, Young put the Bulls up by five with a tip-in in traffic.

Temple put the Bulls ahead by seven with 1:31 left, then the defense kicked in, disrupting what the Pacers were trying to do over the next minute. By the time LaVine sank two free throws with 12.5 seconds left, one of the Bulls’ better road victories of the season was all but complete.