CHICAGO (AP) — Taj Gibson led five players in double figures with 23 points and the Chicago Bulls brushed off a poor offensive first half to rally for an 89-77 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.
Kirk Hinrich had 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, Mike Dunleavy scored 13, Jimmy Butler 12 and Joakim Noah added 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Gibson, who was 9 for 15 from the field, also had eight rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench.
The Bulls (40-31) pulled within two percentage points of Toronto (39-30) for third place in the Eastern Conference.
The win also prevented Indiana from clinching the Central Division title on Chicago’s home court. The Pacers are looking to win consecutive division crowns for the second time since joining the NBA (1998-99 and 1999-2000).
The Pacers, who were led by Paul George’s 21 points, have dropped three straight and six of eight on the road. They’ve lost four of five at the United Center, including both visits this season.
The Pacers earned a 91-79 victory over the Bulls on Friday night at Indiana.
With the NBA’s top two defensive teams on the court, points figured to come at a premium, and that certainly was the case in the first half.
Neither team managed to score 20 in either of the first two quarters, and the Pacers took a 34-33 halftime lead when George Hill (12 first-half points) hit a 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left.
The Bulls were 14 of 44 (31.8 percent) from the field in the first half, including 1 for 10 on 3-pointers.
Perhaps the most entertaining portion of the half came when the crowd got on Pacers center Roy Hibbert for an apparent flop, a hot topic between the teams in recent days.
On the play, Hibbert was fouled by Noah as he was beginning to go up for a shot attempt. While there definitely was enough contact to warrant a foul, it appeared to be light. Hibbert, though, dropped to the court flailing as if he had been hit by a flagrant foul.
After the replay was shown on the scoreboard, the crowd began to boo. Noah stood off to the side with a big grin on his face.
Following Friday’s game in Indiana, Gibson accused the Pacers of flopping, and it was still the topic of conversation at the morning shootaround for both teams.
“I mean, I haven’t taken a charge in probably four years,” Hibbert said at the shootaround. “He’s entitled to his opinion. I’m just going to go out there and play hard.”
The Bulls finally got into an offensive rhythm in the third quarter, starting the second half with a 16-5 run to take a 49-39 lead.
A few minutes later, Indiana had cut the lead to 55-49 and George had the ball on a fast break ahead of the field. Hinrich, though, caught him from behind and looked as if he was going to give an intentional foul. Instead, Hinrich stripped the ball and the Bulls headed in the opposite direction as George complained that he was fouled.
The Bulls completed the four-point swing on Gibson’s dunk to make it 57-49 with just more than 4 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Bulls took a 64-56 lead into the fourth after scoring 31 points in the third. They had balanced scoring in the quarter with Dunleavy and Hinrich each tallying seven points. Carlos Boozer, Butler and Gibson added five apiece.
The Bulls were never seriously threatened in the fourth and held on for a relatively comfortable win.
NOTES: The Bulls posted a 110-94 victory in Indiana’s only previous visit to the United Center this season on Nov.16. Indiana won both games at home as the teams split the season series. … Pacers coach Frank Vogel when asked if Hibbert was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year: “Hands down. He’s the best rim-protector on the best defense in the league. I think that’s who the award should go to. I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t get the award this year.” Hibbert’s main competition could be Noah, who received the endorsement of Rockets coach Kevin McHale a couple of weeks ago. . Former Bull C.J. Watson missed the game with a right hamstring strain.
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