Indiana Pacers vs. Chicago Bulls: Postgame Grades and Analysis for Chicago
Chicago won just two of their past eight games, dating all the way back to their most recent loss to the Pacers, a game in Indiana in which they fell, 97-92.
Up to this point, the Bulls hadn't beaten the Pacers in any of their previous three games. It almost felt as if they had officially handed the Central Division torch over to Indiana.
The Bulls came into this game with a very different vibe, playing much better defense than they did Thursday night in their 10-point loss to the Portland Trail Blazers and doing a lot more to move the ball around.
Chicago had their usual problems getting the ball to go through the hoop, but once they realized their concerns, they worked to address them.
Unexpected heroes would spur the Bulls from start to finish, and they gave the team a bit of a reprieve from the wrath of Tom Thibodeau.
Chicago had troubles with Paul George along the way, as would be expected, but they got him into foul trouble early on, forcing him to sit out a big chunk of the third quarter.
They would start out the fourth quarter on a bit of a run, pulling out with a bit of a cushion over the Pacers.
With defense and Tibodeau shouting every step of the way, Chicago eventually pulled it out, dropping the Pacers for the first time this season, 87-84.
Kirk Hinrich: C-
Stat Line: 2 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1-of-5 shooting
Kirk Hinrich seems to be slowly falling out of favor in Chicago. Once Tom Thibodeau realized what a great defender he had in Jimmy Butler, sending him at the opponent's best offensive guard, Hinrich's balanced game was less important than getting a bit of scoring from Nate Robinson or even Marquis Teague.
Hinrich is the smartest point guard the Bulls have, but brains don't always put the ball in the bucket.
He ended up playing just 15 minutes in this one until late in the fourth, despite the fact that Robinson was ejected at the end of the third quarter, thanks to a flagrant foul.
Chicago opted instead for a lineup of Teague, Daequan Cook, Butler, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson for most of the fourth, swapping in Carlos Boozer for Butler about halfway through.
Hinrich did get back into the game late in the fourth as Tibodeau seemed to opt for a more conservative offensive set, but he did very little in that little run.
Marco Belinelli: C-
Stat Line: 4 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1-of-3 shooting
Marco Belinelli is a mediocre defender as a part of Thibodeau's system; he's not great at forcing a fast break, and he's only truly valuable when he's getting shots to fall and putting the ball on the floor and scoring.
He did very little of that in this one.
Belinelli played just 23 minutes up until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, and rather than Tibodeau running his starter into the ground, he couldn't get him off the floor fast enough.
It's not that Marco was shooting poorly; he hardly shot at all. Belinelli was just not active enough to make an impact.
He was passive offensively, seemingly uninterested in asserting himself much in the first half, only getting back into the game because Daequan Cook hurt himself tripping over a camera man.
Luol Deng: B+
Stat Line: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 7-of-14 shooting
Luol Deng did his part with the scoring load Saturday night, which was just what the Bulls needed as nothing much happened offensively outside of a few players, as is the case each and every night.
Deng has had his nights where the ball just isn't falling, and he gets frustrated, but he worked through that after a bit of a tough first quarter.
He ended up splitting duties with Jimmy Butler when it came to checking Paul George, and Deng was usually able to get the better of him, whether it be standing strong in the post or recovering nicely if George ended up beating him off the dribble.
George had a fine night against Deng, but he wasn't able to take over the game in the fourth, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Deng's defense and Taj Gibson's help.
Carlos Boozer: B+
Stat Line: 18 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 8-of-15 shooting
Carlos Boozer had a fine night by his standards, but it seemed like this should have been a game in which Boozer could have taken advantage of his position.
With David West out of this one, Boozer would be looking across the aisle at Tyler Hansbrough, a younger, less-disciplined defender.
While Hansbrough is an energetic, sometimes frustrating guy to go up against, he's also a young, often overzealous guy who can get into foul trouble against the wrong opponent. The patient, systematic Boozer should have been that wrong opponent.
With his veteran savvy and slow-motion post game, Boozer should have been able to take advantage of Hansbrough's overreactions to the smallest post moves and lived at the line.
Instead, Boozer settled for jumpers (he made a bunch of them) and shot just one free throw through the first three quarters. Boozer did draw two fouls in the fourth, but it should have been a game-long battle for him.
He doesn't get style points, but he was effective Saturday night, nonetheless.
Nazr Mohammed: A
Stat Line: 11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 5-of-7 shooting
I'll say this once, because it might alter the balance of the universe if it's said any more than that, but Nazr Mohammed was amazing against the Pacers.
Mohammed, stepping in for the resting Joakim Noah was expected to grab a handful of minutes, definitely more than his season average, and just play enough so that Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson didn't have to play all 48 minutes.
Instead, Mohammed came in and had his best game of the season.
Every time Nazr steps on the court, it seems to get a big laugh out of a lot of people. He's got a funny name, he's sometimes clumsy and he's never amounted to much in his career.
However, the fact that he has been in the league since 1998 should tell you that he's worth something to this team, and he showed it Saturday night.
Nazr Mohammed has 10 and 5. God is dead.— Brian Schroeder (@Cosmis) March 24, 2013
Bone-shattering screens, excellent defense, tap-backs, solid rebounding, efficient scoring and more energy than any 35-year-old center could ever hope to have propelled the Bulls in this game.
As weird as it sounds, if Mohammed doesn't play this well, the Bulls don't win this game.
Sixth Man, Taj Gibson: B-
Stat Line: 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4-of-11 shooting
On Thursday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Taj Gibson started out shakily on offense, but he was able to get into a groove, get a few decent possessions and work in the low post a bit.
Against Indiana Saturday night, Gibson started off slow, was slow in the middle and then finished up a bit less slow.
He scored on a few fast breaks and was able to take advantage of an offensive rebound, but his offensive game just wasn't on point all throughout this one. That being said, it was just his second game back after missing a month to an MCL sprain.
That being said, Gibson's defense was terrific in place of Joakim Noah.
With two blocked shots and five rebounds, Gibson was key in Chicago's stretch run at the beginning of the fourth quarter in which Indiana had no way to score.
Stat Line: 32 points, 18 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, 13-of-37 shooting
The bench gave the Bulls quite a bit on an interesting night in which they actually went 11 players deep.
OK, it was only 11 players on a technicality since Vladimir Radmanovic played just 20 seconds, but 10 players deep is strange for Thibodeau as well.
Gibson was key to the defense, as was Jimmy Butler, while Nate Robinson, Daequan Cook and Marquis Teague were all key to the offensive effort.
Robinson was well on his way to having a fine game acting as the team's sixth man, but he tackled Lance Stephenson late in the third quarter and earned himself an ejection.
Strangely enough, Cook came in for the tossed guard and ended up exploding offensively after playing earlier in the game and gobbling down rebounds. Cook finished with nine points, five rebounds and two assists.
Teague tossed around a few assists along the way, and Radmanovic did absolutely nothing, so it was a nice game for the Chicago bench.