CHICAGO – With their leading scorer still out and a few of their other starters still on minute restrictions, one could have seen how this night was going to go before it happened.
But after their head coach said on Wednesday that they needed to be tougher, it was going to be interesting to see how the Bulls would respond against the Pacers on Friday.
Could they pull together a strong effort and pick up one of their bigger wins of the season after one of their worst two nights earlier against the Timberwolves?
Not really, to be honest.
Without Zach LaVine, with Lauri Markkanen struggling in his second game back, and even with another strong performance from Coby White, the Bulls were no match for Indiana most of the night at the United Center.
Behind Domantas Sabonis’ 24 points and 16 from Victor Oladipo, the Pacers built as much as a 23 point lead in the third quarter and were comfortably ahead most of the second half. A late surge led by Shaq Harrison (25 points) made for a more respectable 108-102 final score as the Bulls lost their second-in-a-row.
After being critical of the game before, Boylen praised his team’s effort despite another losing outcome, as the Bulls slip to 21-42 on the year.
“I give our guys credit for hanging on. I don’t think we played well. I thought we tried,” said Boylen. “Again, I think we’re in this moment where we’re working guys back in and getting used to playing with each other again and kind fighting through it.”
Markkanen had the biggest fight of the evening as he struggled in his second game back, hitting just 1-of-10 shots while scoring three points and grabbing five rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Wendell Carter Jr. joined him in the starting lineup and played 26 minutes with eight points and six rebounds while Otto Porter Jr. had eight points in 19 minutes on 4-of-9 shooting.
Once again, the major impact came from White, who may force Boylen to put him into the starting lineup sooner than later. For the sixth time in seven games he had at least 20 points, this time going for 26 on 10-of-21 shooting and six assists. Harrison was just as hot from the field as he hit 5-of-6 three-pointers for a career-high 25 points.
Yet despite those efforts, it was another game that was mostly out of hand for the Bulls, as the group continues to struggle as new players start making their return to the lineup.