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Stephenson gets hot late as Pacers pull away from Bulls

The SportsXchange

INDIANAPOLIS -- Lance Stephenson never had a second thought.

The Indiana Pacers guard missed 11 of his first 12 shots, but deferring to others was never an option.

Good thing for Indiana.

Stephenson scored 12 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Pacers pull away for a 97-80 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night to remain the NBA's only unbeaten team.

"No hesitation," he said. "You've just got to keep shooting. That's what my shooting coach told me."

Forward Paul George, who scored 21 points, said it's just another step in the 23-year-old Stephenson's rapid development.

"That's him being a professional," George said. "That's him growing up and maturing in this league, stepping up when you need it the most."

George made just six of 19 shots from the field, but he had six rebounds and played excellent defense against Bulls guard Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter. Rose scored 17 points, but he made just one of six shots in the second half and was 0-for-2 in the fourth quarter while George, one of the league's best perimeter defenders, hounded him.

"He's a game changer," George said. "He's somebody that can really turn things around and create offense himself. I really wanted to pressure him and challenge him and see what he had."

Forward David West had 17 points and 13 rebounds, forward Luis Scola scored 12 points and guard C.J. Watson added 11 points for the Pacers (5-0).

"This is the team," Stephenson said. "I think we have all the pieces that can get us to that championship. We've just got to stay focused and go game by game. When we play as a unit and everybody's on the same page, no one can mess with us."

Forward Luol Deng scored 17 points and guard Kirk Hinrich added 12 for the Bulls (1-3).

"We got beat in every facet of the game -- the rebounding, the defensive transition, turned it over," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to play 48 minutes against a good team."

Stephenson hit a 3-pointer to give Indiana the lead in the fourth quarter. Scola followed with a mid-range jumper to give the Pacers a 72-69 lead with 6:16 to go.

A steal and layup by Scola pushed the lead to five, and another 3-pointer by Stephenson gave Indiana a 77-69 edge. Stephenson bolted down the court and scored on an acrobatic layup to give the Pacers an 85-73 lead. The Pacers' largest lead was 19 points.

"Five-and-0, that's a good start, but how we're playing is more encouraging," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

The Pacers, the league leaders in scoring defense, held the Bulls to 36 percent shooting overall and 30 percent shooting in the second half. Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who entered the game as the league leader in blocks, had five more and also had eight points and 10 rebounds.

"I just thought our defense ultimately came through," West said. "We pride ourselves on being able to compete defensively and play every single possession."

The game went back and forth for the first three quarters.

The Bulls opened the second quarter on a 14-2 run, fueled by six points from reserve forward Taj Gibson. Indiana made just one basket in the first six minutes of the period.

Rose, who entered the game shooting 29 percent from the field, made five of nine shots in the first half. Gibson scored seven points in the second quarter to help the Bulls take a 43-37 lead at halftime.

The Pacers, playing the second of back-to-back games, were careful with their starters' minutes in the first half. George and Hibbert only played five minutes in the second quarter.

The Pacers started off hot in the second half. Stephenson hit a 3-pointer to cut Indiana's deficit to a point, then George went strong to the hole, scored and was fouled. He made the free throw to put Indiana up 47-45.

Rose put the Bulls back ahead with a driving layup after a nice hesitation move. He was fouled and made the free throw.

Indiana answered. A 3-pointer from George from the right corner, with his right arm remaining in the air well after the release, gave the Pacers a 56-51 edge with 4:55 left in the third quarter and forced the Bulls to call timeout.

Chicago rallied and trailed 63-62 at the end of the quarter before falling apart in the fourth.

"We're not getting any stops on defense and we're not in sync on offense," Hinrich said. "Things are not instinctive out there for us right now. We're second-guessing everything we're doing, we're just not in sync, we're not sharp."

Meanwhile, the Pacers are strong and in position to get better.

"We're deep, and we have a lot of guys who can contribute and make a lot of plays," West said. "That's what we're going to need as this year wears on."

NOTES: Pacers F Danny Granger sat out again due to a strained left calf. He hasn't played this season. F Lance Stephenson is performing well in his place. ... Pacers G George Hill sat out for the third consecutive game because of a sore left hip. Former Bulls G C.J. Watson started in his place. ... Bulls G Derrick Rose made his return from a torn left ACL in the preseason against Indiana. The Bulls beat the Pacers in both preseason meetings.
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