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George's extra practice pays off as Pacers edge Bulls

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Paul George hit just 2 of 18 shots during the last two games of Indiana's West Coast trip. So when the Pacers landed in Indianapolis after a red-eye flight from Oakland, George went straight to the gym for two hours of shooting.

The extra practice paid off, as George poured in 34 points and Indiana won a defensive battle against Chicago 80-76 on Tuesday at the United Center.

"The way I shot the ball against Sacramento and Golden State, it really brought me down," George said. "I let the team down by the way I shot the ball. I had to get in the gym and put up 500 shots -- from floaters to mid-range to 3-pointers. I mixed it all up. That's something I need to continue to keep doing."

Indiana trailed by four points with less than four minutes remaining. Then George capped a 6-0 run and put the Pacers ahead 76-74 with 2:05 left on a 16-foot pull-up jumper.

The Bulls missed two chances to tie the score and Lance Stephenson got loose under the basket for a layup that made it 78-74 with 45.5 seconds remaining.

Carlos Boozer answered with a layup, Chicago's first basket in almost exactly three minutes, but he missed the free throw that could have made it a 3-point play. David West missed a jumper from the top of the key, giving the Bulls possession with 14.1 seconds left trailing by 2.

The next play caused some controversy.

Bulls forward Luol Deng made a back-door cut, caught a pass from Joakim Noah and collided with Pacers center Roy Hibbert near the basket. As Deng hit the floor, no foul was called.

"In my eyes, he got wiped out," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He had a layup. It was a train wreck. I'm not going to put it on the officials. We've still got to get it done."

West collected the rebound and hit two clinching free throws with 5.2 seconds left. Inside the locker room, Deng said the back-door cut was a designed play and blamed himself for not getting the best of the collision.

"I'm mad at myself for not getting a shot up," he said. "I lost the ball, but if I would have got a shot up, even if I missed it, a teammate could have got the rebound. That's the one thing I've got to do better with that play."

Indiana coach Frank Vogel saw the play much differently than Thibodeau.

"You're allowed to jump straight up," Vogel said. "No matter where you are, you're allowed to jump straight up and absorb contact. When (Hibbert) learned that and went away from trying to draw charges, he went from not being able to stay on the court to one of the best defensive centers in the NBA."

Guard Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 19 points, while Deng added 17 and Carlos Boozer scored 14. West and Hibbert finished with 10 points each for Indiana.

The Pacers opened a 60-51 lead with just under three minutes left in the third. Robinson came off the bench to spark a Chicago comeback. The 5-foot-9 guard scored 11 points during a 17-6 run, which sent the Bulls to a 72-68 lead with 5:10 remaining.

After Deng hit a jumper to make it 74-70, the Bulls went cold. West's short flip in the lane tied the score.

With Richard Hamilton sidelined by a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, Thibodeau decided to start Marco Belinelli at shooting guard. Belinelli is statistically the Bulls' best 3-point shooter this season at 40.7 percent, but he has averaged just 5.0 points a game.

"I just think it fits best right now," Thibodeau said. "Nothing's etched in stone, but he's played well and Jimmy (Butler's) played well coming off the bench. We'll see how it goes."

NOTES: Injured Chicago guard Derrick Rose, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on April 28, was seen running sprints at the Berto Center on Monday as the Bulls finished practice. That prompted speculation Rose might be ready to return to practice before the end of the month. "He's a long ways away from that, but he's doing well," coach Tom Thibodeau said Tuesday. ... This was the last stop on a four-game, eight-day road trip for Indiana, which included a West Coast swing. ... Heading into Tuesday's game, Chicago had won 14 of the last 16 contests against the Pacers at the United Center.
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