Baffling late-game foul leads to Pacers losing heartbreaker vs. Chicago Bulls

A late-game foul led to perhaps the most disappointing Pacers loss of the year against an undermanned Bulls team.
Mar 13, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) looks to pass the
Mar 13, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) looks to pass the / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Man, this one hurts a lot.

After a convincing win against the best team in the West, the Pacers returned to action the very next day against a much less intimidating opponent. The 31-34 Chicago Bulls didn't look like much of a threat on paper, especially with the absence of Zach LaVine, who was shut down for the rest of the season a while ago.

That being said, it was disappointing to see the Pacers get off to yet another slow start, scoring 28 points in the first quarter on 44% from the field and 2/10 from deep while the Bulls scored 30 points despite missing their best player. Indiana picked up the slack in the second quarter, scoring 34 points and holding Chicago to that same 28 points, but DeMar DeRozan kept his stellar play going, reaching 19 points in the first half on 7/10 shooting as Indiana barely held on to a 62-58 win after the first 24 minutes.

Looking back, the third quarter was easily the worst stretch of the game for the Pacers, as they only managed 23 points on 9/24 shooting and 2/11 from deep. Chicago on the other hand, scored 35 points on 54% shooting, as Alex Caruso picked up the scoring load with 14 points on 5/6 shooting.

Down by eight going into the fourth quarter, the Pacers played determined to come back against a far inferior team, and that is exactly what they looked to do, with a one-point lead solidified by Pascal Siakam soaring down the lane to block Coby White's shot with 10 seconds left and give Indiana the ball back, after which Aaron Nesmith extended their lead to three with two free throws.

Unfortunately, the Pacers somehow found a way to mess this up. With 5.5 seconds left and the Bulls down by three points, Rick Carlisle made the baffling decision for Aaron Nesmith to deliver a take foul on DeMar DeRozan while up three points.

This not only let the Bulls close the gap but gave Nesmith his sixth and final foul of the game, rendering him unusable for the final stretch. From this point on, the worst possible scenario occurred, as DeRozan made his first free throw but missed his second.

Unfortunately, the Bulls got the rebound and called timeout with two seconds left, after which DeRozan drained a miraculous fade away with a hand in his face to send the game to overtime, in which the Bulls took control and won, despite the efforts of Myles Turner.

After all this time, this decision to foul at the end of regulation is still confusing. The Bulls are not exactly a great three-point shooting team, and DeRozan himself is not a three-point shooter by any means, notoriously struggling from there his entire career.

In addition, Coby White, perhaps the Bulls' best shooter, was taken out of the game after getting injured on a previous play. With this being said, it would have undoubtedly been smarter for the Pacers to guard the three-point line in the final 5.5 seconds and watch Chicago try to get a shot up.

The Pacers have lost plenty of games due to dubious circumstances this season, but this one was by far the most frustrating. What seemed like a surefire win with Nesmith's free throws somehow turned into a momentum-killing loss against an awful team at the worst possible time.

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Because of the loss, the Pacers are now back in the seventh seed, tied with Philadelphia when they should be a full game ahead. Their record on the second night of back-to-backs also drops to 2-10, of which many losses have come to inferior teams, just like this game.