INDIANAPOLIS -- It didn't come easily, but the Indiana Pacers took a significant step in their quest to win the Central Division on Sunday.
The Pacers had to hold off the Chicago Bulls to post a 97-92 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Power forward David West led the Pacers with 31 points, and George Hill added 21 points for Indiana.
"I think fans enjoyed that game, both teams going at it and playing at a high level," Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. "Our guys rose to the occasion to get the win."
Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli scored 20 points each for Chicago, and that was a career high for Butler.
With Indiana holding a three-point lead, Hill had a chance to ice the game with two free throws, but he missed both with 13.3 seconds left.
The Bulls got the rebound and immediately advanced the ball into the front court. Belinelli missed a 3-pointer with 7.0 seconds left, but the ball went out of bounds off a Pacer, giving Chicago another chance. Tyler Hansbrough poked the ball away from Chicago's Vladimir Radmanovic. West gained possession and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws to seal the victory for the Pacers.
"Not good enough (effort), we came up short," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to do better, we have to do better."
The Pacers have a four-game lead over the Bulls in the division, and it's really a five-game lead with the tiebreaker included. The two teams play one more time in Chicago on March 23.
"Knowing it's a long season, we still have 20-plus games left," Hill said. "Anything can happen. We know it's a good team over there, and they're going to make a push to try to take over the division. We have to maintain."
The Bulls were without Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and former league MVP Derrick Rose
The Pacers led by as many as 13 points, but the Bulls came back to tie the score twice in the fourth quarter.
"Injuries mean nothing to this team, recent struggles mean nothing to this team," Vogel said. "In fact, recent struggles raise my antennas even more because they have a figure-it-out mentality with their coaching staff and all of the struggles. We know this is a team that overcomes the odds, wins no matter who is uniform. They're not a team that fatigues. They're so mentally tough."
The Pacers found a way to respond each time it appeared they were going to lose the lead.
The Pacers had a 90-89 lead when Hill made two free throws to increase the margin to three points. They forced the Bulls into a 24-second violation, and took a 94-89 lead with 32.2 seconds left when West grabbed his own miss and put it back in.
West and Hill had 10 and 11 points, respectively, in the fourth quarter.
"(Chicago is) always going to play extremely hard," Pacers center Roy Hibbert said. "We know they're going to keep playing hard until the end, but we have closers out there who can finish games."
NOTES: The short-handed Bulls had even more health problems against the Pacers on Sunday. Hinrich was a late scratch with a foot injury, and Hamilton stayed in Chicago with back problems. The Bulls were already without Rose (knee) and sixth man Gibson (knee)...Pacers small forward Danny Granger only played eight minutes in the first half because of soreness in his left knee. He played 10 minutes in the first half against Toronto last week because of soreness in that same knee. ..The Bulls didn't arrive in Indianapolis until around noon on Sunday, because mechanical problems on their charter plane had forced them to return to Chicago on Saturday night...Hibbert had his third double-double in the past 10 games when he finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds...Paul George had his 20th double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds...The Pacers bench was outscored 31-8 by Chicago's second unit.