CHICAGO – Paul George has found himself a new routine.
After laying a goose-egg his last time out, George scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to an 80-76 win over the Bulls on Tuesday.
Roy Hibbert added 10 points, 11 rebounds and a game-saving block for Indiana, which closed a four-game road trip with three victories.
The Bulls, who failed to win three straight for the first time this season, were able to keep David West, Indiana’s leading scorer, in check – but George picked up the slack.
George scored 10 points in the first quarter, highlighted by a thunderous dunk as George Hill’s 3-point attempt bounced up off the back of the rim. It was George’s best performance since scoring a career-high 37 points Nov. 21 against New Orleans. George went scoreless Saturday at Golden State, missing all seven of his shots.
“I’m always my worst critic,” George said. “When we got back, we had the day off and I knew that I needed to work. I headed over to the gym, put up 500 shots, mixed it up from floaters to mid-range to 3-pointers. That’s something that’s got to be a routine for me.”
Up two points in the closing seconds, Hibbert was the recipient of a controversial no-call that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Luol Deng drove along the base line and was rejected by Hibbert, falling to the floor as West grabbed the rebound to send the Pacers back to the line to ice the game.
Hibbert stayed in Indiana over the summer to work on defense with his coaches. Coach Frank Vogel was ecstatic to see it pay off.
“You’re allowed to jump straight up,” Vogel explained. “No matter where you are, you’re allowed to jump straight up and absorb contact.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau saw it differently.
“In my eyes, [Deng] got wiped out,” Thibodeau said. “I’m not going to put it on the officials. We’ve still got to get it done. Tough call went against us.”
Hibbert had little offensive impact in the first half, scoring two points, but used his size to take over in the third quarter when Indiana outscored the Bulls, 25-18. Then he put the game away with his defense.
“I do that all the time,” Hibbert said about the play on Deng. “I jump straight up and take the contact. I play defense. That’s my staple. If my offense isn’t going, I always have to play defense. I want to make the all-defensive team this year.”
Hibbert has blocked at least two shots in 12 straight games.
Nate Robinson fired up the crowd with a trio of baskets on successive possessions midway through the fourth quarter to give the Bulls their first lead since early in the third, but the Bulls could not pull it out, thanks in part to 19 turnovers.
Robinson came off the bench and scored 19 points, and Carlos Boozer notched his seventh double-double in nine games with 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulls.
“Something we have to do is take care of the ball down the stretch,” Robinson said. “For this loss, I definitely take the blame. Down the stretch I have to be smarter with the ball and make the right plays and execute.”
Three of Robinson’s four turnovers came in the fourth quarter.
West reached double-digits for a ninth straight game for Indiana, but his 10 points were a far cry from the 23 he had averaged over his last six games.
Indiana shot 31.6 percent from the floor in the first half, including 1 of 5 from behind the arc. The Pacers continued to struggle from long range, hitting 2 of 10 attempts, but tightened up inside, shooting over 40 percent in the second half.
Chicago shot 38.4 percent from the floor.
Both teams struggling from the field was little surprise, as Indiana (90.9 points allowed per game) and Chicago (94.4) came into the contest boasting two of the top-five defenses in the NBA.
Marco Belinelli scored six points with an assist and a turnover in his first start for Chicago, playing in place of the injured Richard Hamilton. Hamilton is out indefinitely after suffering a torn plantar fascia in his left foot during Saturday’s 93-88 win over Philadelphia.
Hamilton’s injury left the Bulls even thinner at the guard position, with former MVP Derrick Rose sidelined due to surgery in May to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.
NOTES: Rose was seen shooting around at the United Center earlier Tuesday, but Thibodeau remained stalwart in his preseason resolution to avoid talking about Rose’s rehab at length. “Derrick’s focused on his rehab, we’re focused on our improvement and our opponent. So he’s doing fine,” Thibodeau said. ... Vogel acknowledged F/C Tyler Hansbrough’s struggle to adjust to decreased minutes. Hansbrough came in averaging just 6.5 points per game and went scoreless on Saturday against Golden State, missing all five field goal attempts. “He’s got to figure it out,” Vogel said.