Playing the first game of back-to-back set to close out the regular season, the Chicago Bulls coasted to a 92-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Bulls, who clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, improved to 49-16 this season.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the Pacers (42-24). Kyle Korver had the hot hand the second he entered the game, pouring in 20 points on four three-pointers. Carlos Boozer got Chicago off to a good start, scoring 10 first-quarter points, and finished with 16 to go along with seven rebounds. Joakim Noah notched his 23rd double-double of the season, with 14 points and 14 boards. Derrick Rose added 10 points and seven assists but missed 8-of-11 shots, while Taj Gibson also scored 10.
From the outset, the Bulls’ ball movement and defense was strong, as they took a 32-24 lead through one quarter of play. Boozer and Noah, in particular, provided Tom Thibodeau’s bunch a strong presence on both ends of the court, as Boozer had several nice feeds to teammates, including a no-look bounce pass to Noah for a two-handed dunk in the second quarter. Korver also had the hot hand in that second frame – which the Bulls led by double digits throughout to take a 49-36 lead at halftime. Luol Deng knocked down a three-pointer that the Bulls believed beat the buzzer, but it did not.
While the Pacers made a few runs in the second half – their biggest scare of the night came midway through the third quarter when they went on a 10-2 run to cut the Bulls’ lead to six points – the visitors took care of business and cruised to a win. Although Lance Stephenson had 22 points to lead the Pacers, the team was without guards Danny Granger and Leandro Barbosa. The Bulls outplayed Indiana for most of the night. They outrebounded the Pacers 44-34 and piled up 27 points to 13 turnovers.
On this night, the Bulls let the game come to them, preserving health in the process. No starter played more than 34 minutes (Noah), while Rose, Rip Hamilton and Boozer all played under 27 minutes. Rose, for his part, moved around much better in the second half after blowing a pair of layups in the first and running gingerly. Much was made about the fact that Thibodeau wouldn’t “overextend” his starters, and the veteran coach did a solid job of managing their minutes against the Pacers.
With the win, the Bulls lowered their magic number for the top overall record in the league to one game. The San Antonio Spurs are 48-16 entering Thursday night’s tilt against the Phoenix Suns. In addition, the Bulls will surely keep a close eye on two potential first-round opponents that were in action Thursday – the Philadelphia 76ers or New York Knicks. It appears the Sixers are more likely to land the eighth seed to face the Bulls.
Next up, the Bulls play their regular-season finale on Thursday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers (21-44) at the United Center. It will be interesting to see whether Thibodeau sticks to the same minutes game plan as Wednesday.