INDIANAPOLIS – David West scored 31 points and George Hill added 20, leading the Indiana Pacers past the Bulls 97-92 in a Central Division showdown Sunday night.
Indiana (38-22) has won seven of its past eight games, going 6-1 since the All-Star break, and holds a four-game lead over second-place Chicago.
The Bulls were led by Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler, who each had 20 points for a team that was missing four key players with injuries. The Bulls fell behind late in the first quarter and spent most of the rest of the game trying to play catch-up.
The Bulls finally tied the score at 72 on Luol Deng’s 8-footer early in the fourth and again at 80 when Butler made two free throws with 7:04 left, but the Pacers converted back-to-back turnovers into four points. The Bulls had a chance to tie in the closing seconds but turned the ball over after missing a 3-pointer that would have evened the score at 95.
Indiana has won five of its past seven against the Bulls and three straight in the series for the first time since winning four in a row in 2004.
The Pacers now own the division tiebreaker after going 3-0 against the Bulls this season. The final regular-season meeting is March 23 in Chicago.
For the second time in a month, the Bulls showed up at Indiana severely short-handed. Then, as now, they were missing point guard Kirk Hinrich, this time with a right foot injury. Then, as now, they were also missing Derrick Rose, who continues to recover from last season’s torn ACL in his left knee. On Sunday, the Bulls also were playing without guard Richard Hamilton, who didn’t travel because of a lower back injury, and forward Taj Gibson, who sat out with a left knee injury.
The Pacers played the second half without Danny Granger, who had a sore left knee – the same injury that kept him out of the first 54 games this season. He went 0 for 3 from the field in 8 minutes during the first half.
How much of a difference did it make for the Bulls?
After trading baskets early, Indiana clamped down on defense and took control. It ended the first quarter on an 11-4 run to take a 32-21 lead and never let the Bulls get closer than seven points the rest of the half, taking a 47-40 lead to the locker room.
The Bulls rallied in the second half, cutting the deficit to 69-66 when Butler hit a 3-pointer with 31.7 seconds left in the third and tied the score twice early in the fourth.
But after the four-point flurry, the Pacers held off the Bulls’ charge and forced an errant 3-pointer and another turnover on the Bulls’ final possession.
NOTES: Indiana made all four of its 3-pointers in the first quarter. ... The Bulls are 6-21 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. ... Chicago rookie Marquis Teague scored two points in his second trip to his hometown this season. ... Pacers coach Frank Vogel won his 100th career game. ... Indiana is 8-5 against the Eastern Conference’s top teams, including 2-0 against Miami and 2-1 against the Knicks.