The Bulls continued their late season surge, rallying from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the struggling Indiana Pacers 102-96 on Tuesday. And they can thank Ben Gordon for that.
Gordon celebrated his 23rd birthday by scoring 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls (34-40) moved to within a half-game of Philadelphia—which lost by 33 points to Cleveland—for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and 1 1/2 games of the seventh-place Pacers (35-38). Chicago visits the 76ers on Wednesday and hosts them on Saturday.
“It’s going to be crazy in there,” Gordon said.
It was pretty wild at the United Center, too.
Both teams’ benches spent the latter stages of the game on their feet, and the fans screamed at an eardrum-piercing volume.
Gordon hit four 3-pointers during the fourth quarter and the jumper that put the Bulls ahead for good, 97-96 with 1:16 remaining to lead the Bulls to their third straight victory and fifth in six games. Suddenly, a second straight playoff berth seems like a strong possibility for a team that was reeling March 22 after Indiana handed the Bulls their fourth straight loss.
“This is a playoff game for us, probably one of the most important games of the year,” Chris Duhon said, referring to the matchup with Philadelphia.
Tuesday’s game had a playoff-like feel, too.
With a 90-73 lead early in the fourth, the Pacers appeared to have the win locked up. But the Bulls came roaring back with a 19-2 run.
And Gordon led the way.
A combined 17-for-55 from the field in the previous four games, Gordon was quiet through three quarters. Then, he asserted himself.
Gordon hit two threes and capped the surge with a steal and breakaway layup to tie the game at 92 with just over 3 minutes left in the game.
This time, he hit a long jumper to put the Bulls ahead for good, 97-96 with 1:16 remaining. And after Jermaine O’Neal missed two free throws, Andres Nocioni made it 99-96 with a finger roll with 32.1 seconds remaining.
The Pacers called timeout, then turned it over with a five-second violation. Gordon hit his fourth 3 of the quarter 16 seconds later for the final score.
“After he hits two in a row, you kind of get that feeling that he has it going,” Duhon said. “The one with the shot clock going down at halfcourt, that kind of said it.”
Gordon said, “You just feel like you can’t miss. You don’t hear the crowd or anything like that. You’re just in a zone.”
Kirk Hinrich scored 15 points for the Bulls, and Nocioni added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Jackson scored 22 for Indiana, which has lost five straight and six of seven. And he made no effort to hide his frustration.
“There’s no excuse to go up 17 points and lose,” he said.
Seemingly a lock to make the playoffs a few weeks ago, the seventh-place Pacers’ grasp on a postseason spot continues to loosen. And Jackson made no effort to hide his frustration afterward.
The Pacers went on a 9-0 run to grab a 68-60 lead midway through the third, with Jackson scoring five points and O’Neal adding four. Jackson hit a 3 late in the third to start a 14-2 run that extended into the final quarter.
After two free throws by Chicago’s Luol Deng made it 81-73 41 seconds into the fourth, Indiana’s Sarunas Jasikevicius hit a three. And the Pacers’ lead reached 17—90-73—on two free throws by David Harrison.
But Gordon took over for the Bulls. The lead disappeared. And all Jackson could do afterward was shake his head.
“They played that fourth quarter like they had something at stake, like they wanted to go to the playoffs,” Jackson said. “And we played like we didn’t want to go to the playoffs.”
The Bulls outscored the Pacers 50-28 in the paint. … After attempting 39 free throws in each of the first three games against the Bulls, the Pacers were 19-for-23 from the line. … Jackson got a technical foul about four minutes into the game. He thought he was fouled on a drive. … The win was coach Scott Skiles’ 100th with the Bulls. He is 215-201 as a head coach, 100-122 with Chicago.