INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison rescued Indiana on Tuesday night.
The Pacers know they will need a lot more contributors and much better play to get through their toughest stretch of the season.
Bogdanovic scored 27 points, Collison added 22 and the duo combined for eight points during the decisive run, leading Indiana to a 105-96 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
“Every game since the All-Star break has been close and I just think it’s going to help us out during the playoffs,” Collison said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to execute because in the playoffs, it’s going to be (close) like that.”
This victory was an absolute must for a team that had lost three of four.
Since returning from the break, the NBA’s second-best defense had allowed 110 or more points in six consecutive games, jeopardizing Indiana’s tenuous hold on the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
While this victory didn’t come easily and it certainly wasn’t pretty, the Pacers did manage to take some momentum into an 11-game stretch during which they’ll play Oklahoma City and Denver twice each and visit Milwaukee, Golden State and Boston.
Injuries have been part of the problem. All-Star guard Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending knee injury in January and backup forward Domantas Sabonis missed his fourth consecutive game with a sprained left ankle.
Still, everyone on the Pacers believes they can thrive even without two of their top scorers.
“We will have to continue to see who has the hot hand, the combination we want to go with down the stretch,” coach Nate McMillan said. “We’ve got to use everybody here since we’ve got this new starting lineup.”
And they need to a better job of putting games away.
Indiana took control in the first six minutes and never trailed until Zach LaVIne’s dunk capped a 7-2 fourth-quarter run that gave the Bulls their only lead, 86-85, with 7:08 to go.
Just 81 seconds later, the lead was gone — for good.
Bogdanovic made two free throws to put Indiana back in front, then knocked down a 3-pointer. Collison followed that with another 3 and when Myles Turner ended the 10-0 run with a dunk at the 3:58 mark, the Pacers led 95-86.
Chicago never got closer than five the rest of the way. LaVine finished with 27 points, and Robin Lopez added 20 points and nine rebounds.
The Bulls have lost five straight in the series.
“We lost because they were tougher than us in the fourth quarter,” Chicago coach Jim Boylan said. “That’s where we’ve got to grow.”
Bulls: Lauri Markkanen finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. He’s had nine or more rebounds in 16 consecutive games. ... The Bulls spent most of the night playing catch-up after starting 6 of 23 from the field. They finished 4 of 25 on 3s. ... Boylan said Chandler Hutchinson did some light work on his injured right toe and appears to be progressing but he did not say when Hutchinson might return.
Pacers: Bogdanovic has scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games. ... Turner finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks. Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. ... Wesley Matthews scored 10 points. ... Indiana has won six straight home games against the Bulls and pulled off its first season sweep in the series since 2001-02.
THE TOUGH GUYS
During his pregame availability, Boylan said he’s been most impressed with how the Pacers have continued to cope with the losses of Oladipo and Sabonis without sliding in the standings.
“This is a tough franchise. I was here, I worked here,” Boylan said, referring to his days as an Indiana assistant. “It’s a good city, a tough city and they love their basketball. There’s something to that — it’s not just fairy dust.”
Bulls: Close out a back-to-back Wednesday when Philadelphia comes to town.
Pacers: Will try to earn a split in the series when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
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