Indiana's huge front line too much for Bulls to handle

SportsChicago BullsBasketballJamaal TinsleyThabo SefoloshaBen WallaceTroy Murphy

Suddenly, the Bulls' size issues are a very big problem.

One game after being pounded by a more physical Utah team, the Bulls shuffled through the first half Monday night at Conseco Fieldhouse before Bulls coach Scott Skiles hit on small lineups that flashed energy and effectiveness.

One small, er, big problem: They also featured either Malik Allen, a zone or—gulp—6-foot-9-inch Luol Deng trying to contain an active and, well, tall Pacers front line anchored by 6-foot-11-inch Jermaine O'Neal.

So when Indiana put the finishing touches on its 98-91 victory, Deng offered an understatement that only can be termed as large.

"O'Neal," Deng said, "is big."

The Bulls, who have lost 17 of 18 in Indianapolis, trailed 73-56 late in the third before Skiles found a combination he liked of Allen, Deng, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha. That unit closed the quarter with a 15-4 run capped by a spectacular, 29-foot three-pointer by Gordon at the buzzer.

Gordon, playing on a sprained left ankle that he further aggravated, scored 11 in the run in just 2 minutes 35 seconds.

Skiles rode the lineup, which closed the gap to 83-79 with 6:37 to play. But Pacers guard Darrell Armstrong, huge with 16 points and 10 assists, drained a three-pointer.

And then the Bulls got even smaller, with Kirk Hinrich first replacing Deng and then Deng replacing Allen. Indiana's next four scoring possessions came off three offensive rebounds and an easy lay-in by O'Neal, who was "guarded" by Deng.

Eight of Indiana's 16 offensive rebounds came in the fourth quarter.

"That's always a decision you have to make: Do you roll with the guys that have made a push to get you back in the game or bring guys in that have been out basically for a whole quarter for one stop?" Skiles said. "I elected not to go that way, and it hurt us. But I don't feel like with our big guys right now that we're dominant on the glass in any way, shape or form. So when we're struggling to score and our spacing is questionable, our small lineup is better.

"There comes a point every game where for our team going small is a viable option. We've come back a lot like that. This might've been another game where I waited too long."

Ben Wallace didn't play for the final 15:23. He grabbed three rebounds in 22 minutes.

"I thought our small lineup did a great job getting us back in the game," Wallace said. "But they kept pounding the ball inside.

"I didn't think [O'Neal] scoring inside hurt us as much as second-chance buckets. We came up with stops and then gave up an offensive rebound."

The Bulls, who committed 22 turnovers, had one last gasp when Gordon got fouled while making a three-pointer with 1:14 left to make it 94-88. But Gordon, who led all scorers with 31 points, missed his chance at a four-point play.

Gordon then ignored Skiles' plea not to foul and intentionally fouled Armstrong. He further complicated matters by receiving his first career technical foul for arguing.

"He knows not to foul there," Skiles said. "Why did he? I'm not sure."

Said Gordon: "I barely touched him. But in today's league, I guess that's a foul."

O'Neal's 22 points and 10 rebounds led Indiana, which played without Jamaal Tinsley and in its second game with Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.

"This game has been too good and life has been too good for me to be disappointed by a game," Wallace said. "We got another one [Tuesday against Atlanta]. We'll bounce back."

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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