Carlos Boozer returned to action after missing the previous three games with a sore right hamstring, but the undermanned Bulls – still without Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich – simply couldn’t pull off another short-handed effort as the Indiana Pacers held on to win 111-99.
The win was Indiana's 14th straight victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Marco Belinelli fought through a sprained right ankle he suffered in the first half and scored a team-high 24 points. Nate Robinson finished with 17 and nine assists.
Boozer contributed 10 points on four-of-12 shooting and five rebounds in just 23 minutes of action.
The Bulls had seven players in double figures, but shot 44 percent as a team, while Indiana shot over 60 percent the first three quarters.
"Early in the game it seemed like they couldn't miss," Taj Gibson said. "We were contesting a lot of shots but they had a lot of guys that got hot and you're going to have nights like that when guys are making tough shots but you try to keep playing. Our defense kind of let down a little bit, but we had a shot in the fourth quarter.”
Even with Indiana’s hot shooting, the Bulls closed to within 98-94 after a Belinelli field goal with 1:59 remaining.
There was some controversy as Belinelli appeared to have saved a loose ball from going out of bounds and throwing it off of Pacers’ Roy Hibbert with 1:30 remaining.
The officials gathered and confirmed Indiana’s ball without going to the video monitors to review the call. According to league rules, in the final two minutes questionable calls are supposed to be reviewed, but the officials choose not to.
“(Referee) Mike Callahan went and asked them, and they said that there was no need. It’s reviewable under two minutes,” a frustrated coach Tom Thibodeau said afterwards. “It’s subjective. If there’s any question, supposedly you do it.”
Indiana’s Paul George answered with a three-pointer that ignited a seven to nothing run as the Bulls missed their next four field goal attempts, plus two free throws and simply ran out of time.
David West led four of the Pacers starters who scored in double figures with 29. George Hill scored 22 and All-Star reserve chipped in 21.
The Bulls will now head west for a two-game stand against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.
Hinrich isn’t expected to play at all during the two games and Joakim Noah’s status is questionable.
Being undermanned, Thibodeau had to take the positives away from another gutsy effort against a division rival.
“I did like that we fought back. You have to figure out what you can do to give yourself a chance in the end,” he said. “I thought our guys did that. Of course we're disappointed with the way we finished, but it's still a very winnable game."