Winners in 9 of their previous 13 games entering last night, the pressure was on for the undermanned Chicago Bulls to keep ascending the Eastern Conference standings as they hosted the Indiana Pacers. Led by rising NBA star Tyrese Haliburton, beating Indiana would prove to be no easy feat as the two teams exchanged blows throughout, including a 25-point comeback effort from Chicago.
Unfortunately, the Bulls would ultimately fall short 104-120, dropping a game that could have helped propel their case for the postseason even further. Don't let the final score fool you, however, as this game was a lot close than it looks and there are several silver linings to be pleased about here even in defeat.
Despite the loss, there's still a few silver linings to take home here for the Bulls.
1. Bulls had a chance to pull off the upset despite overwhelming setbacks
The Bulls entered last night's game in a bad position from the very beginning, they were never going to be favored to win this one, even in the United Center. Chicago had four key players in Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Torrey Craig, and Lonzo Ball all sidelined last night — accounting for approximately 50% of the Bulls' entire payroll — while Indiana was operating at near-full strength, sans one Bruce Brown.
Already league leaders in pace of play this season, the Pacers lived up to their name and forced the Bulls to play a fast brand of basketball they were simply unequipped to deal with. While players like LaVine and Lonzo might thrive in transition, many of the Bulls who were actually available to play, such as DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond, prefer to take things slowly.
As a result, the Indiana forced Chicago to get uncomfortable and this was reflected by the Bulls' poor shooting splits — something I'll be touching on again soon. The fact that the Bulls even had a chance to win this game against a vastly improved Pacers squad is a testament to their newfound unity.
2. Patrick Williams took charge when his teammates needed him most
Believe it or not, Patrick Williams was the best player in a Bulls uniform last night. Having served as an effective 3-and-D role player for the majority of his career, fans have been anxiously awaiting Williams to make the leap and become the dynamic difference-maker we hoped the former fourth overall pick could be.
On a night where DeRozan and Coby White just couldn't get anything going offensively, it was Patrick Williams who stepped up to lead the team with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a pair of steals. He converted on 9 of his 14 shot attempts and maintained a level of assertiveness we haven't seen from him before through all 38 minutes he played. If he keeps putting together performances like this, he might just get that hefty extension he wants later in the summer.
3. The Bulls kept things close despite horrendous shooting
As I mentioned earlier, the Pacers exhausted the Bulls with their up-tempo play style, and it took a toll on Chicago's shooting splits. The Bulls converted only 7-of-27 shots from beyond the arc, with DeRozan, White, and Jevon Carter combining for an atrocious 2-for-12 by themselves. Meanwhile, the Pacers took advantage of the mismatch and lit the Bulls up for a ridiculous 19-of-42 shooting, with Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Aaron Nesmith carrying the brunt of the workload by shooting 15-for-29.
Despite all that, the Bulls still only lost by 16, and appeared to have a real shot to win it until Haliburton was substituted back in during the fourth quarter. The Bulls actually took back control of the game after a poor first half, leading 93-90 with 7:51 remaining in the fourth. From there, Haliburton put on a masterclass and proved he is on his way to superstardom by steering the Pacers to a 30-11 run to close out the game.
Had the Bulls not been so undermanned, or had the Pacers not shot so well from three-point range, Chicago likely takes home a win last night. We may not have gotten the result we wanted, but losing to a dangerous Pacers team under these circumstances isn't something to feel ashamed about.