Bulls 92, Pacers 90
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Ben Gordon was just warming up when he drained a buzzer-beating jumper at the end of the third quarter.
When Indiana guard Jamaal Tinsley missed with 16 seconds left and the score tied at 90, Gordon got the chance he wanted.
“I was joking with my teammates on the bench, and I said ‘all right, if they miss this next shot, I’m going to go make it,”’ Gordon said. “I just love opportunities like that when I get a chance to help my team win a game.”
Gordon, who led the Bulls with 31 points, launched the shot over Indiana’s Mike Dunleavy, who had six inches on him.
“He did a really good job,” Gordon said. “I wanted to go to my right hand and get to the basket, but he cut me off and my only resort was to spin away from him, and I had the soft-touch shot. The rim was kind to me and it went in.”
Indiana coach Rick Carlisle expected Gordon to be involved with Chicago’s final offensive play.
“Gordon is as good a go-to guy as there is in this league right now,” Carlisle said. “I can’t imagine Mike playing him any better. He just changed the angle and made the shot.”
Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal could have forced overtime, but he missed a jumper from near the free-throw line as time expired.
“Jermaine had a clean look and just got unlucky and didn’t hit the shot,” Carlisle said. “They made a great shot and we were unable to convert.”
O’Neal finished with 39 points, the second-highest total of his career, and had 14 rebounds. He scored Indiana’s last 14 points.
“To me, he was the player of the game on both sides,” Gordon said. “He played about as good of a game as I’ve ever seen him play.”
O’Neal’s effort was exceptional, considering that a few weeks ago, he missed three games with a bruised left knee and at one point was considered out indefinitely.
Carlisle said the Pacers can’t put so much responsibility on O’Neal. Dunleavy scored 23 points for Indiana, but no other Pacers player scored more than nine.
“We needed a couple more guys to step up offensively,” Carlisle said. “We put too much on Jermaine’s shoulders. Striking a balance is going to be a major factor for this team.”
Chicago won for the ninth time in its past 12 games and guaranteed itself at least a .500 season with its 41st win. The Bulls took the season series 3-1.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Pacers, who are just out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Indiana was coming off a 95-70 win over Miami.
“It was a big game, an opportunity to move up to seventh place,” Tinsley said. “Now, we’re two games behind. It’s just frustrating. We get a good effort Friday, then let this one get away.”
Chicago coach Scott Skiles was aware of the Pacers’ performance against the Heat.
“They were coming off a win,” he said. “They played as well as I’ve seen any team play all year the other night, so I’m sure they were trying to build on that.”
With Chicago leading 80-76 in the fourth quarter, Carlisle was called for a technical after he disagreed with a foul call against Danny Granger. The Bulls made all three free throws to take an 83-76 lead with 6:33 left.
O’Neal kept the Pacers in the game by scoring all of his team’s points in a 7-2 run that trimmed Chicago’s lead to 87-85 with 3:14 left. He then gave the Pacers an 88-87 edge with a 3-point play.
Chicago’s Kirk Hinrich, who finished with 14 points, responded with a 3-pointer with 1:17 to go to put Chicago up 90-88.
O’Neal’s jumper with 1:02 left tied the game at 90.
The Pacers still are in the hunt for a playoff spot, though time is running out. Indiana has 13 games remaining.
“Despite the loss, we’re still in this thing, which is amazing,” Granger said. “We’ve got to realize that and keep going.”
Skiles was called for a technical foul with 3:59 left in the second quarter. It helped fuel a 13-2 Indiana run. … Tinsley was called for a technical in the first half. He was suspended for the March 10 game against Philadelphia for conduct detrimental to the team and was kicked out of a March 21 game at San Antonio for throwing the ball into the stands. … Dunleavy is averaging 15.3 points in his past 12 games. … The Bulls shot 15-for-15 from the free-throw line.