The Indiana Pacers enter Sunday’s home matinee against the Chicago Bulls riding their first winning streak of the season.
While the Bulls remain in search of their own such streak, they seemingly discovered the stuff of fundamental basketball down the stretch of Friday’s home victory against the Detroit Pistons.
After faltering late in losses at New York and Cleveland earlier in the week, Chicago clamped down defensively and enjoyed a stretch of clutch shooting that helped add up to a 112-106 win against Detroit.
“I thought we rebounded the ball better in the fourth quarter,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought our defensive effort and our communication was better. And I thought we made some big-time shots, which is important. It’s something we haven’t been doing.”
Chicago surged to a 16-point lead in the first half but still found itself trailing with 3:46 to go. Led by the scoring punch of Zach LaVine (26 points) and Otto Porter Jr. (22), Chicago regrouped to earn its first win of the season against a Central Division rival.
“Otto, I thought, had that look in his eye like he wasn’t going to let us lose,” Boylen said. “He was aggressive. He was confident. He has a size advantage at the three with ball skills. I thought he did a great job.”
Indiana surged to a season-high 118 points and claimed its first victory of the season at Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Pacers again eclipsed the century mark with Friday’s 102-95 home win against Cleveland, avenging a loss to the Cavaliers the week before.
The Pacers outrebounded the Cavaliers 57-46. Center Domantas Sabonis, the team’s top rebounder in four of its first five contests, established a career high with 17 boards.
“I feel like in the last game we didn’t come out with that much energy and they beat us badly on the boards, so coach really put an emphasis on it tonight,” Sabonis said. “We came out tonight and everybody did their job.”
Added Pacers coach Nate McMillan, whose team limited Cleveland to 36.8 percent shooting from the floor: “We just did a nice job. I said the same thing to our guys. We haven’t won the rebounding game all season long, they dominated us last game. … Tonight we dominated the boards.”
Indiana’s bigs will have to contend with the Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. under the glass. Carter is coming off a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds against Detroit.
“He embraces his role on this team,” Boylen said. “He’s a tough young dude.”
Pacers rookie center-forward Goga Bitadze has fit the latter bill for the Pacers off the bench in the early season. On Friday, the 20-year-old Bitadze – who is 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds – contributed 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocks in 24 minutes.
Indiana defeated Chicago in all four meetings last season, but its largest margin of victory was nine points. Two of the contests were one-possession victories for the Pacers, including a 119-16 overtime win in Chicago on Jan. 4.
–Field Level Media