NBA News Wire

Third-quarter surge lifts Bulls past Pacers

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CHICAGO — When these two Midwestern rivals square off, it’s safe to expect an intense, physical battle that is likely to be decided in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

Forward Taj Gibson scored 23 points and the Chicago Bulls started the second half on fire, leading to an 89-77 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at the United Center.

When these teams played in Indianapolis on Friday, the Pacers broke open a tight game with a 19-0 run early in the third. This time, Chicago trailed by one at halftime and began the second half by hitting 10 of 12 shots from the field.

Gibson’s shot-making helped turn a defensive struggle into a relative runaway. Guard Kirk Hinrich added 18 points for the Bulls (40-31). Center Joakim Noah finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, as well as leading the cheers all night.

“They were really dominating us in the last game, especially on the glass, and they were laughing,” Gibson said. “It’s frustrating when you’re playing against a team that’s similar to you and they’re like your rival and they’re slapping fives and laughing in your face. We take too much pride in rebounding the ball and playing solid basketball.”

Indiana (51-20) missed a chance to clinch the Central Division title, although that seems to be a formality. The Pacers’ lead over Miami for the top seed in the East is now two games.

Forward Paul George led the Pacers with 21 points and guard George Hill scored 17, but Indiana shot just 37 percent from the field.

“The Bulls play great defense,” George said. “They’re a tough match and play with a lot of energy at home. They’re phenomenal here.”

After a low-scoring first half that saw Indiana carry a 34-33 edge into the locker room, the Bulls started the third quarter with a relative offensive explosion. The result was a 22-9 run, and the Bulls opened a 55-43 lead when Hinrich nailed a 3-pointer with 5:20 left in the third quarter.

Chicago’s most picturesque play happened a few minutes later. Hinrich managed to take the ball away from George on a fast-break opportunity and pushed the ball upcourt quickly. Guard Jimmy Butler missed the ensuing shot, but Gibson’s follow slam brought the crowd to its feet.

“The difference was they just made shots,” said Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose team is 5-7 in its last 12 games. “They were guarded shots and it wasn’t because of poor defense. Credit them for making shots. We need to find our offensive rhythm.”

That surge did the trick for Chicago. Indiana got as close as 61-56 in the final minute of the third quarter after a jumper by forward David West. But Gibson’s three-point play gave the Bulls a 64-56 advantage heading into the fourth.

The Pacers trimmed the deficit to six points on three occasions in the fourth quarter, but could never put together a big run. Vogel emptied his bench with a minute left and a 10-point spread.

“I’m just happy we won,” Noah said. “Every game is different. Every game has its problems. Indiana’s a physical team. They play very good defense. We’re very similar in a lot of ways. I’m just happy we could prove to ourselves we can compete with anybody in the East. That’s exciting to me.”

After the Pacers beat the Bulls on Friday, Gibson said he thought there was flopping going on by Indiana in an effort to draw fouls.

The Pacers denied the charge, but there were plenty of fouls called in the rematch. Butler, one of the Bulls best defenders, played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three fouls, then Indiana center Roy Hibbert missed a large portion of the second half after getting his fourth and fifth fouls.

At the start of the game, the Bulls missed their first seven shots and fell behind 7-0. A jumper by Noah finally made a mark on the scoreboard and they eventually tied the score at 9-9.

By the end of one period, Indiana led 19-15 despite shooting 36.8 percent from the field. Chicago shot 27.3 percent in the opening quarter, with no player making more than a single field goal.

The second quarter was almost as ugly. The Bulls won that quarter 18-15, but both teams managed to shoot at least 33 percent.

Butler and West were given double technicals midway through the third quarter for jawing during a free-throw attempt.

NOTES: Before Monday’s game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel endorsed his own player, C Roy Hibbert, for defensive player of the year. Chicago C Joakim Noah is considered one of the leading contenders for the honor, which is chosen by a media panel. “He’s the best rim protector on the best defense in the league,” Vogel said. “I think that’s who the award should go to.” … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and general manager Gar Forman both stated Monday they expect G Derrick Rose to miss the rest of the season. Rose had surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage in his right knee Nov. 25. There was speculation Rose could return for the playoffs. … Indiana G C.J. Watson, a former Bulls player, missed his sixth straight game with a right hamstring strain. … Heading into Monday’s action, Indiana posted the third-best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1. Chicago owned the second-best record since that date and Brooklyn was first.