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Big Ben rings winning note on huge effort
Bong! Bong! Bong!
Yes, that was Big Ben taking a toll on the Indiana Pacers Saturday night.
The noise ringing in the ears of the Pacers and rocking the United Center was Bulls center Ben Wallace rebounding, grabbing loose balls, tipping others, locking down Pacers star Jermaine O'Neal and, yes, even scoring in an 89-80 Bulls comeback victory.
Wallace finished with eight points, including a team-high three field goals in the fourth quarter, 18 rebounds and a league high for the new season with 10 on the offensive end as part of a dominating 24-4 offensive rebounding edge for the Bulls. "He imposed his will on the game," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.
Wallace came up with his biggest game as a Bull in rallying the team from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit in several classic defensive sequences in which he outmaneuvered, outhustled and outsmarted Pacers players on the way to the ball. Midway through the fourth quarter he rescued errant shots on consecutive possessions with the Pacers leading.
Those second chances and his defensive rebounds led to an Andres Nocioni jumper that pulled the Bulls to within 73-71, to a pair of Luol Deng free throws that tied the game 73-73 and two more Deng free throws that gave the Bulls a 77-75 lead with just less than three minutes left.
Wallace retrieved his own miss for a basket and a 79-77 lead with 2 minutes 14 seconds left and then set a jarring screen to free Kirk Hinrich, who led the Bulls with 23 points, for a three-pointer that effectively was the winner as it put the Bulls ahead 84-80 with just 19.9 seconds left.
"I'm just trying to do what I can to help this team win," said Wallace, who wasn't playing much as advertised, starting Saturday's game with an average of 8.8 rebounds per game. "I'm trying to defend, play the passing lanes, clog the middle, whatever I can do.
"In the fourth quarter, everyone got on the same page and was playing with a lot of energy, getting stops when we needed. The bounces went our way and we got a win."
Deng added 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulls in a furious effort attacking the basket. He scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and Nocioni had 12 off the bench after an uneven start. Al Harrington led Indiana, which fell to 4-3, with 19 points. The Bulls moved to 3-3 and open a seven-game trip in Dallas on Tuesday. They won't play at home again until Nov. 28.
And who knows who will be playing by then, or even later this week, because coach Scott Skiles seemed to imply he was about to remove Ben Gordon from the starting lineup after Gordon had another poor game. He shot 1 of 8 and sat out most of the fourth quarter. Skiles also indicated he might bench the rookies, Thabo Sefolosha and Tyrus Thomas, and go to a tighter rotation after both performed unevenly.
"I'm still searching from a lineup standpoint," Skiles said. "It's possible I change the lineup before the next game. I liked the way those guys finished the game tonight. One of the possibilities I'm looking at is that lineup."
That lineup had Chris Duhon for Gordon, with Skiles declining to go back to Gordon at any point despite several opportunities coming out of timeouts, and Nocioni playing for P.J. Brown. The Bulls outscored the Pacers 30-14 in the fourth quarter and outrebounded them 15-8 on the boards though they shot just 38.3 percent for the game.
"I have to take my share of the blame [for the offensive struggles], the way I am playing various people," Skiles said. "I played the rookies and didn't [play them] in the second half. I have to make a determination quickly, if not [Sunday], if the rookies can help us or not. If not, I have to stick with the veterans and give them a comfort level."
The Bulls got one, finally, though it looked like another disheartening night as the Pacers were the sharper team early, leading 25-24 after one and 48-43 at halftime. Despite being on their fourth game in five nights, the Pacers constantly found open shooters against the Bulls ever-changing lineups and led 62-50 midway through the third quarter. But the Bulls took the game from there, more with effort than beauty.
"It wasn't pretty for sure," Hinrich said. "We kind of willed ourselves to victory, shooting 38 percent and winning. You have to be happy with that, with us leaving for our long trip that always has been our Achilles' heel. This [with Wallace] is what we've been dealing with
the way he throws his body around and gets his hands on so many balls. It gives us extra opportunities, which was huge for us."
And what about Wallace, who played all 48 minutes?
"Someone," Skiles said with a smile, "told me Big Ben hadn't tolled yet."
Perhaps it was heard all the way around the NBA.