Bulls lose control on runaway

Even if the NBA is a game of runs, rare is the contest that features a team turning a 16-point lead into a 21-point deficit and eventually a 117-102 loss.

Welcome to the 2007-08 Bulls, who continue to find new ways to define underachieving.

A spectacular defensive collapse allowed the Pacers to post season-highs for a Bulls opponent in points, field goals (44), three-pointers (11), points in a quarter (40 in the third) and field-goal percentage (55.7).

The next Bull to find a Pacer in transition—here's a hint: the three-point line—might be the first.

"Defensively, we had a meltdown," guard Kirk Hinrich said. "At first, our defense was good and it was fueling our offense. We were doing a good job getting up and down the floor. Then we fell apart and forgot everything we knew how to do, especially in transition."

These aren't your dump-it-in Pacers anymore, although Jermaine O'Neal piled up 18 points, nine rebounds and four blocks.

More telling, Kareem Rush came off the bench to hit three three-pointers and score a game-high 22 points. And the Pacers drained 11 of 24 three-pointers overall.

"The last couple of games we've played better offensively and our defense has been not awful but close to it," coach Scott Skiles said. "If you're missing shots and you don't sprint back and identify men and get out to them against a team that can really shoot it, it's a bad mix. They had 97 points in the last three quarters."

Skiles denied benching any players for the pitiful defensive performance. Joe Smith and Ben Wallace didn't play the entire fourth quarter and just nine and six second-half minutes, respectively.

Hinrich, who was battling foul trouble, played 11 second-half minutes. Luol Deng played just 13, although garbage time in the fourth skewed all numbers slightly.

"I didn't like the whole feel of the game," Skiles said. "Every time we started to come back we just kind of let down and they'd score some baskets and we'd have to take a timeout. I wasn't giving up on the game. I was simply trying to find any kind of spark and maybe get something going, much like we did against Detroit and Charlotte. But I couldn't find it."

Asked if he felt anybody was being punished, Wallace demurred.

"Nah, I feel like [Indiana] was punishing us," Wallace said.

Early on, the Bulls picked up where they left off against the SuperSonics—getting stops, pushing the ball. Ben Gordon had 12 points in the first quarter.

The Bulls' lead stretched to 38-22 in a second quarter that also featured a skirmish between Tyrus Thomas and Troy Murphy, leading to the ejection of both. But the Pacers began their onslaught late in the second, leading 53-52 at halftime.

Indiana then scored on 12 of its first 14 third-quarter possessions and shot 71.4 percent in the quarter.

"You'll never win a game like that," Smith said.

The Bulls were led by Gordon, who scored 18 points but shot 1 of 10 in the final three quarters.

The once-proud and packed crowd may have thinned to 10,381 at Conseco Fieldhouse, but it's a building that continues to give the Bulls fits. They now have lost 16 of 18 here, even though the Pacers played without Bulls killer Jeff Foster.

"Somebody would just penetrate and they'd pitch it out and knock them down," Skiles said. "You have to give them credit for knocking them down. But we were a step slow getting out to them."

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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