INDIANAPOLIS — The Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls defied NBA logic Monday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Chicago (22-9), now 14-4 on the road, missed 17 consecutive field-goal attempts to close the third quarter and then through more than eight minutes of the final period, were outscored at one point 20-0 and gave away all of what was at one point a 21-point lead.
But rising star guard Jimmy Butler came to the rescue during the final 2:29, and the Bulls rallied for a 92-90 victory, which hung in the balance until Indiana guard C.J. Watson missed what could have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Butler made a 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining, capping a game-closing 7-2 Chicago burst after trailing 88-85. Butler, who scored a game-best 27 points, had five of the Bulls’ final seven.
“I thought they played harder than we did on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter, and we can’t let that happen,” Butler said of the wild Indiana comeback. “But late in the game, I am confident in myself, and so are my teammates.
“I feel like it is my job to step up and take and make shots. Derrick Rose is always on me to shoot and to shoot 3s.”
Chicago, now 18-1 when leading after three quarters, trailed 88-85 before finishing with the 7-2 run. The Bulls survived despite making only 2 of 21 fourth-quarter shots and being outscored 25-11.
Forward Pau Gasol added 20 for the Bulls, and guard Rose scored 17.
Reserve guard Chris Copeland led Indiana (11-21) with 17 points. Pacers guards C.J. Miles and George Hill each added 11. The Pacers’ non-starters outscored the Bulls bench 48-14 and were at the core of the Indiana comeback.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said his team was really good for three quarters.
“Obviously, we didn’t close out the game the way we would have liked,” Thibodeau said. “The lesson we learned is that you have to keep playing. No lead is safe in this league.”
Chicago outscored the Pacers 29-13 from the free-throw line and outrebounded Indiana 46-44.
Indiana outscored the Bulls 15-2 during the fourth quarter’s first 4:50 to pull within 83-80 on Copeland’s 3-pointer.
Baskets from Copeland and forwards Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen pushed the Pacers into an 86-83 lead with 5:61 to go. At one point, the Bulls missed 17 consecutive shots and were outscored 20-0 before Gasol scored with 3:25 remaining, cutting Indiana’s lead to 86-85.
“When you have a big lead on the road, you still have to keep a certain edge,” Gasol said. “A team hits a few shots, and then their crowd gets into it. But when we came through, I saw a calmness out there.”
Chicago outscored Indiana 12-6 to start the third quarter for a 59-41 lead, prompting a timeout from Indiana coach Frank Vogel. Two Rose free throws with 6:05 left in the third gave the Bulls a 63-44 lead.
Forward Mike Dunleavy, who failed to score in the first half, got involved in the third quarter, making a jumper, a 3-pointer and then a three-point play for a 75-54 lead with 2:29 left in the period.
“One of the factors was that we did not get to the free-throw line enough, and we settled for jump shots too often,” Vogel said. “But I am really proud of the guys who got us back in the game.
“We had opportunities in our offense for Copeland to post up. Some were on switches in the pick and roll game, and there were some sets we called. When we were coming back, you think about coming back with your starters, but there are certain situations that were no-brainers and that second group deserved to win or lose that ball game.”
Miles, who helped bring the Pacers back despite battling an upper respiratory infection, said it is difficult to lose after making that kind of comeback.
“It’s tough when you fight that hard and dig out of a hole and then just can’t finish it,” Miles said. “We did such a good job bringing a lot of energy off the bench. We knew we had to show some resistance and just chip away at it.”
The Pacers pulled within 81-65 after three quarters, closing the period on an 11-6 run.
The Bulls won despite shooting just 34.5 percent from the field. The Pacers hit 43.4 percent of their field-goal attempts.
NOTES: The Bulls played without G Kirk Hinrich (left hamstring strain) and F Doug McDermott (right knee). … The Pacers were without G/F Paul George (fractured right tibia/fibula) and C Ian Mahinmi (torn left plantar fascia). … After a stretch in which they faced six consecutive Western Conference opponents, the Pacers are in a sequence of facing five consecutive Eastern Conference foes, of which Chicago was the third. … Indiana defeated the Bulls 99-90 on Nov. 15 in Chicago in their only other meeting thus far this season. … The Bulls entered ranked second in the NBA in blocked shots (6.1 per game) and fourth in rebounding (45.5). … The Pacers began the night as the NBA’s second-ranked defensive team, allowing
only 96.5 points per game. … The Bulls return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 5.
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