DeMar DeRozan scores 27 points as Pacers end road trip with blowout loss to Bulls

CHICAGO -- The Pacers found the Bulls' defense impenetrable in the last night of their five-game road trip, failing to score 100 points for the first time all season and losing 125-99 to Chicago in the United Center.

The Pacers fell to 41-33 but stay in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls improved to 35-38 and sit in ninth.

Here are four observations.

Bulls wall off the paint, make life hard on Pacers' forwards

The Pacers entered Wednesday's game leading the NBA in points in the paint with 57.8 per game, but the Bulls' defense entered the game allowing the fewest points in the paint per game at 45.3 per game. In the matchup of strength vs. strength, the Bulls won out.

With exceptional perimeter defense led by defensive ace Alex Caruso coupled with rim protection from big men Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond, the Bulls held the Pacers to just 12 points in the paint in the first half which made it difficult for the rest of Indiana's offense to function. With few clear opportunities to even get the ball in the lane much less get a shot there, the Pacers found themselves too often having to settle for jump shots and 3s in particular and didn't make nearly enough of those to make the Bulls pay for that. The Pacers scored just 43 points in the first half on 14 of 40 shooting (35.0%) including 6 of 19 from 3. In the second quarter, the Pacers scored just four points in the paint and made 6 of 17 shots while they were outscored 37-20.

"It's the way they play their concepts," guard Andrew Nembhard said. "You come off the ball screen and they have the big high up-to-touch. They have the first guy in the gap pretty heavy and they're stunting on the weakside, so it's kinda the way they play. They have honestly some pretty good individual defenders as a group together too. It makes it easy to execute those coverages."

The Pacers managed 26 points in the paint in the second half including 14 in the third quarter alone to get to a respectable 38 for the game, but the Bulls outscored them 60-38 in the lane. Also, the Bulls made it difficult on the Pacers' frontcourt players wherever they were on the floor. After Pascal Siakam scored 25 points or more in each of the first four games of this road trip including 36 against the Lakers and 31 against the Clippers, the Bulls held him to 14 points on 2 of 7 shooting. Forward Aaron Nesmith scored six points but was 2 of 11 from the floor. Center Myles Turner scored 12 on 4 of 12 shooting. The Pacers second-unit frontcourt players -- Obi Toppin, and Jalen Smith -- combined to score 10 points. Third-string center Isaiah Jackson scored six on 3 of 3 shooting, but all of his buckets came in the final seven minutes once the game was decided.

The Pacers' 38 points in the paint was the fewest they've scored since Jan. 19 when they managed just 26 in a loss at Portland. They didn't shoot well enough outside to make up for it either, as they were 13 of 42 from 3-point range. They finished 34 of 85 from the floor (40%) and posted 1.03 points per possession.

"They really pack the paint," Pacers All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton said. "The one game we did beat them, we just made shots. I think you have to make shots really to beat them. They pack the paint and make you play spaced out. I feel like if we made some shots that would have opened everything up for us today. I don't think we did that."

Second quarter puts Pacers in a hole

The Pacers never fully recovered from the second quarter, mounting a strong run early in the third but never getting closer than seven points.

In the second, the Bulls outscored them 37-20, and for an extended period the Pacers seemed to have no answers while the Bulls got everything they could to fall.

The Bulls shot 14 of 20 from the floor for the period, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range, posting a gaudy 1.63 points per possession. The Pacers, meanwhile, were 6 of 17 from the floor, 3 of 9 from 3, and posted 0.91 points per possession. The Pacers trailed 64-43 at halftime and after their third-quarter recovery the Bulls blew their doors off in the fourth. Chicago shot 16 of 23 in the fourth quarter and posted 1.40 points per possession, going a combined 30 of 43 (69.8%) in the second and fourth.

"Obviously an inconsistent night for us," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "Our first and third quarters were pretty decent defensive quarters. The other two were very poor. We just paid a price."

Carlisle said he didn't see enough energy on the defensive end, and also saw fundamental errors.

"In the first period, we made two or three minor mistakes that are system mistakes," Carlisle said. "Two of those plays cost us 3-point shots. There's six points on two possessions. There was a third one that allowed a layup. There was a missed communication. Right there you have eight points and we were down four at the end of the first quarter. There's no guarantee you're going to get three stops in that situation, but you have a good chance, maybe, to limit them to a couple of 2s instead of two 3s and a two. Everything comes down to a fight for inches on the court, and we didn't do a good enough job in that area."

DeMar DeRozan burns the Pacers again

DeMar DeRozan wasn't quite as lights-out on Wednesday as he was when he burned the Pacers for 46 points on March 13, but he still provided plenty of offense to help the Bulls blow the Pacers away.

DeRozan scored 27 points on 9 of 18 shooting and added 8 of 10 free throws. He was also helped by his pick-and-roll partner Vucevic, who scored 22 on 9 of 20 shooting. All five of the Bulls' starters scored in double figures.

Andrew Nembhard has his best scoring night in two months

When Andrew Nembhard is on the floor with Tyrese Haliburton, his job is generally to bring the ball up so that Haliburton doesn't draw two defenders early in the Pacers' actions and to move the ball when he gets it later on. That's a valuable role with Haliburton seeing near constant double-teams and Nembhard's defense is also indispensable as he takes on a top assignment nightly, but those roles don't always lead to a lot of points.

On Wednesday, though, the Pacers needed Nembhard to score early and often as they were finding it difficult to get the ball in the paint against the Bulls. Nembhard still managed to force his way to the lane a few times, and also found his outside shot. His 18 points were his most since Jan. 26 when he scored 22 against the Suns while Haliburton was still out of the lineup with a hamstring strain. Nembhard made 7 of 12 shots and 3 of 5 3-pointers.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers end road trip with blowout loss in Chicago