It sure wasn’t easy against their fiercest division rival.
Derrick Rose and Luol Deng scored 17 points each to lead the Bulls (1-3), though Rose scored only three points in 12 minutes in the second half, and he spent the first half of the fourth quarter on the bench.
“A couple players on their team made big plays, great second-chance efforts with the rebounding and Lance, I think, played great for them tonight knocking down shots and just playing hard,” Rose said before answering a question about his minutes. “I’ll leave that up to Tibs, he’s the coach on this team, so I’ll let him coach.”
Perhaps Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau thought it was better to protect Rose’s surgically repaired left knee in this rugged game that looked more like a boxing title bout.
Bodies repeatedly crashed hard to the court all night, and the game got progressively more physical with each quarter.
Pacers backup center Ian Mahinmi left late in the third quarter with a sprained left ankle and did not return. Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich was called for a flagrant foul in the fourth. There was a resounding thud inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, too, when Chicago Joakim Noah hit the court while trying to protect his own basket late in the fourth.
But until the stretch, neither team could get the upper hand.
After leading 25-19 at the end of one quarter and trailing 43-37 at halftime, it looked as if Indiana might break away after starting the third quarter on a 10-2 run and then coming up with a 9-2 spurt to regain the lead. When Sloan hit a 3-pointer with 1:12 left in the third, Indiana suddenly led 63-55.
It didn’t last.
Hinrich answered with a 3, Deng hit an 11-foot jumper, drawing a foul on George, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel was called for a technical. Chicago hit both free throws to make it 63-62. The Bulls pulled even on Mike Dunleavy’s 3 early in the fourth and regained the lead, 67-65, on Deng’s midrange jumper with 8:38 to play.