Bulls blow 24-point lead against Pacers, extending skid to five games

Zach LaVine led the way with a game-high 35 points to complement his 11 rebounds and seven assists.

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Zach LaVine poured in a game-high 35 points in the Bulls loss.

Zach LaVine poured in a game-high 35 points in the Bulls loss.

Darron Cummings/AP

INDIANAPOLIS — The Bulls came into Gainbridge Fieldhouse attempting to end a four-game skid.

Instead, they were unable to find the heart needed to pull out a critical win and blew a 24-point lead to mark their worst losing streak of the season with a 117-113 defeat against the Pacers. Once again, the culprit was a second-half breakdown.

“We compete pretty hard but what happens is the game gets ratcheted up, physically, mentally and emotionally,” coach Billy Donovan said. “You have to be able to come down on both ends of the floor and really be incredibly detailed and focused. You have to execute.”

Without All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who was at home nursing a Grade 1 quad strain, Donovan needed someone else to play like an All-Star. Wednesday night, Zach LaVine gave it his best shot.

He scored a game-high 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had seven assists. But in the final seconds when the Bulls needed a clutch bucket from their max player, he came up short. LaVine missed a potential go-ahead shot from the corner with 11 seconds to play and airballed a wide-open attempt from three on the Bulls’ final possession.

Wednesday was far too similar to the Bulls’ last road meeting with the Pacers in which they gave up a 21-point lead and failed to close the game out in the final seconds.

“I mean we talk about it,” LaVine said. “Like we’ve been here before. Try to sustain, go out there and change the momentum a little bit. We gave ourselves a chance but came up a little too short.”

The Bulls won the first quarter, outscoring the Pacers 39-15 but proceeded to lose the next two, watching as their 23-point third-quarter lead was erased. The Pacers outscored the Bulls 40-28 in the third as the urgency the Bulls have been so desperately searching for once again eluded them.

“The game is not won in the first five minutes,” Donovan said. “You have to be able to play all the way through.”

Buddy Hield was the main man responsible for the Pacers’ third-quarter comeback. He closed out the quarter with a three at the buzzer and contributed 19 of his 27 points in that period alone.

Donovan elected to go with a small lineup to start the game, putting Alex Caruso in for DeRozan. Caruso missed Monday’s game after reaggravating a left foot injury he sustained earlier in the month. He came in and played with the same defensive ferocity that has become his calling card.

The Bulls forced 19 Pacers turnovers and converted them into 23 points. Caruso provided a significant spark. His defensive prowess was complemented by strong performances from the Bulls’ young guys. Coby White had two steals, Patrick Williams added two more and Caruso had three. The team finished with 10.

After shooting 27.4% from three-point range through the first seven games in February, they found their stroke. In the first half, the Bulls went 6-for-15 from behind the arc, and they finished 15-for-35.

The second game of their back-to-back against the Bucks on Thursday night at the United Center is the last game before the All-Star break.“We get the break one way or the other,” LaVine said. “Hopefully we can get a little recharged, everyone gets a mental break and gets ready for the second half.”

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