Chicago Bulls starters can’t get right on defense in loss to Pacers

Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers controlled the game for the final 30 minutes in a convincing double-digit win over the Chicago Bulls at home on Dec. 26.

Yet another tough loss for the Chicago Bulls where the starting five just couldn’t get it together on the defensive end of the floor occurred on Dec. 26. The Bulls really didn’t defend well in their regular season opener loss back on Dec. 23 at home at the United Center in a convincing 124-104 letdown at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks.

This wasn’t the most difficult start for a regular season schedule for the Bulls. They got a “Delete Eight” team in the regular season opener (granted they do look much improved this season) in the Hawks and a quality foe, but not the best team in the NBA, in the Indiana Pacers.

Against the Pacers, the Bulls were looking to rebound from their letdown of a defensive showing they had in their regular season opener. But a really poor showing in the latter end of the second quarter, and throughout the third, cost the Bulls in the end.

And it was mainly the starting five that really didn’t show up for the Bulls. They did get a spark in the fourth quarter from the second and/or third unit players off the bench. Finally there was some defense that was played by this Bulls rotation.

It did take the former All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis fouling in the middle of the fourth quarter to get the Pacers offense slowed down. But at least some better on-ball and paint defense did help to get the Bulls somewhat of a spark on both ends of the floor.

That is a problematic trend that some of the Bulls best runs of the season so far came from players deeper down the bench. That is something that first-year head coach Billy Donovan will have to figure out, and it might realistically take more time.

There were points of this game where the Pacers held a 30 point lead. And at least the Bulls didn’t get down on themselves for too long. The fact of the matter is, though, that you can’t get down by 30 points in the second half against a divisional opponent like the Pacers if you want to have any sort of playoff aspirations. Even if you want to be a functional team, you can’t let that happen.

Only two players in the Bulls starting five scored more than 15 points on this night. They got a team-high 17 points from shooting guard Zach LaVine. But it wasn’t the most efficient 17 points from LaVine, despite his previous successes against the Pacers.

LaVine scored those 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field, 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, and 2-of-2 from the free-throw line. But most of those shots from LaVine came on open looks when the Bulls were already out of this game. He also added one rebound, two assists, one steal, no blocks, and three turnovers.

The other player in the Bulls starting five that was at least decent on offense in this game was the fourth-year power forward Lauri Markkanen. He registered 16 points, on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc. To go along with his 16 points, Markkanen raked in nine rebounds, no assists, steals, or blocks, and two turnovers.

The problem players for the Bulls in this game were namely second-year point guard Coby White and third-year center Wendell Carter Jr. For the second straight game, both White and WCJ will score in single figures. And those two just had all sorts of issues gaining momentum on either end of the floor.

Unforced turnovers were once again a huge problem for the Bulls too. They had 20 turnovers on the night (with all but four coming from the starting five players), compared to 16 for the Pacers.

But the biggest concern of all for the Bulls was the difference in points in the paint and overall field goal percentage. The Bulls shot around 37.5 percent from the field, while the Pacers were around 55.5. And the Pacers nearly doubled up the Bulls points in the paint.

The final score for this game went in the Pacers favor 125-106. The Bulls have now lost their first two games of the regular season slate by a combined margin of 39 points against two teams they should’ve had the ability to at least contend with, if not beat outright.

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Next up for LaVine and the Bulls will be the back end of this back-to-back series of games against star point guard Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Dec. 27, with tip off time set for 7 p.m. CT at the United Center. That will round out the Bulls three-game homestand to start off the regular season.