10 Observations: Shorthanded Bulls Thrashed by Pacers at Home

10 observations: Pacers make easy work of shorthanded Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Well, the Chicago Bulls have another chance to prove their resilience.

That's the optimistic view of Monday's 109-77 defeat at the hands of the Indiana Pacers at the United Center — a thorough drubbing, made worse by the now 12-6 Bulls' worn-out, shorthanded nature.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Alex Caruso was a late scratch with a wrist bruise sustained, according to Billy Donovan, some time during the team’s recent West Coast trip, but exacerbated by an early-fourth-quarter charge during Sunday’s Knicks game.

In his stead, Donovan inserted Coby White into the starting lineup, matching Tony Bradley with Domantas Sabonis and DeMar DeRozan with Myles Turner to open the contest.

2. The Pacers jumped in front 15-5 in the game’s first four minutes, 26-9 at the period’s 2:48 mark, and 28-10 less than a minute later before eventually carrying a 31-16 advantage into the second.

What went wrong for the Bulls? It might be easier to assess what didn’t. Behind the NBA’s leading shot-blocker in Turner, who built on his three per game average with four blocks, the Pacers completely walled off the paint, holding the Bulls to 2-for-7 shooting in the restricted area (31.8 percent overall, 1-for-7 from 3-point range). 

And at the other end, Indiana shot the lights out — clearing 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3 — led by some tough shotmaking from Caris LeVert (10 points on 5-for-5 shooting) and Justin Holiday (two 3-pointers).

3. Zach LaVine and DeRozan combined for 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting in the first half, with LaVine draining three of five 3-point tries. Each took turns producing scoring flurries in the second quarter, when the Bulls trimmed their deficit, at one point, to as few as eight points.

4. But the Pacers punched back in a big way, leading 67-46 at the break. At that juncture, all five of their starters were already in double-figures, they had maintained their gaudy shooting splits from the first quarter, and led 14-2 in fastbreak points, which are usually a Bulls staple. Sixty-seven points is the most the Bulls have allowed in a first half this season.

5. Caruso’s absence, obviously, was most felt at the defensive end; the Bulls ripped just two steals and forced four turnovers in the first half — four steals and eight turnovers through three quarters — which led to a dearth of transition opportunities. The Pacers torrid offense, combined with a lack of turnovers, forced the Bulls to play against a set defense most of the evening, the opposite of this team's bread and butter.

6. Matters devolved even further in the second half, with the Pacers expanding their advantage to 31 late in the third quarter and leading 89-61 entering the fourth, prompting Donovan to trot out a white-flag lineup of White, Matt Thomas, Ayo Dosunmu, Troy Brown Jr. (who also entered the regular rotation with Caruso sidelined) and Alize Johnson with 12 minutes remaining.

7. That gave way for 2020 second-round pick Marko Simonović to make his NBA debut, checking in with 6 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. Simonović committed an offensive goaltend and missed a 3-pointer, but did score his first NBA point on a free throw.

8. The big-picture view of the contest is a dominating two-way effort by the visitors. The Pacers crushed the Bulls on the glass (67-45), scoring in the paint (44-32) and from 3-point range (13-for-31 to 6-for-28). Their size makes them a difficult matchup, full strength or no.

But perhaps most alarming was the degree to which their defense disrupted the Bulls. Through three quarters — i.e. the minutes that mattered — the Pacers blocked 10 shots and swiped seven steals, holding the Bulls to 39.1 percent shooting, 10 assists and five fastbreak points. Donovan opined a lack of ball movement, over-reliance on isolation and the Pacers' hot shooting start bleeding into the Bulls' defense.

By night’s end, the Bulls had produced a season-low 77 points on season-worst 35.1 percent shooting. It’s the first time they’ve shot under 40 percent in a game this season.

9. DeRozan and LaVine were both held under 20 points for the first time this season, which isn’t as glaring when you consider each only played three quarters. Their supporting cast, though, was rough. The Bulls’ bench mustered just 16 points in the game’s first three quarters. And on a night some secondary or tertiary scoring would have been needed, Lonzo Ball went scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting and White scored four points on 2-for-10.

10. The Bulls won’t use injuries, or their schedule, as an excuse for a loss this lopsided to a team in the Pacers that entered play 7-11. Donovan certainly didn't postgame, saying Indiana "clearly outplayed" them on both ends to the point that Caruso wouldn't have changed the game's outcome, and that his team didn't play up to its envisioned standard in any respect.

But for a group that never lacks for energy, this performance reeked of a group down two starters playing the second night of a back-to-back two days after returning from a grueling West Coast swing.

Next up: At the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Nikola Vučević will make the trip, but Donovan said he's not yet sure if he'll be cleared from the cardiovascular testing phase of COVID-19 protocol.

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