1. Defense and fouling
This is something I have repeated over and over again, and also something that has been an issue with the Indiana Pacers for multiple years now, transcending players and coaches along the way.
It was especially evident tonight, as the Pacers seemed to pick and choose who they would pay extra defensive attention to on the Bulls team. While Indiana’s wings did a good job guarding Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, holding them to 6/17 and 6/19 shooting, respectively, they seemed to have stopped the defensive attention right there. Outside of DeRozan and LaVine, every single Chicago Bull that scored shot 50% or higher from the field.
Of all these people, Indiana got consistently torched by big man Nikola Vucevic, who put up a team-high 24 points on 10/19 shooting and whom Myles Turner struggled mightily against in the paint.
In fact, smaller defenders such as Aaron Nesmith and Bruce Brown seemed to have more success guarding Vucevic than Turner had. This has been an unfortunate pattern for Turner throughout his career, as he had notoriously struggled with more physical big men and did not do great against the back-to-basket centric Vucevic. There were times when Turner looked lost under the basket, giving up an easy dunk for Vucevic in the process.
It wasn’t only Turner that looked lost, however, as the whole team looked out of place, especially in the closing stretches, giving up an easy Alex Caruso fastbreak dunk while not even making a motion to guard the paint, effectively giving up on the night far before the final buzzer sounded.
When the Pacers weren’t giving up easy buckets in transition or in the paint, they were fouling. In this game, more than ever, Indiana struggled mightily with fouls, as three players committed more than three fouls, and Aaron Nesmith fouled out with six.
Bennedict Mathurin, in particular, struggled with foul trouble, picking up two fouls on back-to-back possessions and even getting a technical foul after protesting a call a bit too loudly.
Mathurin ended the night with five fouls, which prevented him from being more aggressive on defense as the game came to an end, effectively limiting his defensive ability. This comes as a disappointment following Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, where Mathurin was also poor on defense, a shock considering how much improvement he showed during the preseason.
All in all, the Indiana Pacers committed 24 fouls compared to Chicago’s 17 and let the Bulls pull away in the end due to sloppy defense despite the bad call.