- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Thibodeau laid it all out for his Chicago Bulls team after its deflating 91-79 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night. He didn't like the lack of toughness the Bulls showed, he detested the way they didn't compete on the boards -- where Indy racked up a 51-36 advantage -- but, most of all, he couldn't stand the fact that his team went through too many offensive droughts during the game. Thibodeau will have a sleepless night thinking about the way his team began the second and third quarters. Indiana started the second on an 8-0 run and put the game away in the third quarter with a 19-0 surge. In a game that had the look and feel of a playoff affair, the Bulls fell short, and Thibodeau knew it.
"When you're playing a team like Indiana you can't have stretches like we had to start the second and start the third," Thibodeau said. "And then you've got to rebound throughout the game. And we can't allow any frustration with calls that aren't going our way prevent us from doing the things we have to do to win."
The Bulls' frustration was palpable down the stretch. Their offense faded out, and their defense, which has been so good throughout the season, allowed Indiana to go off for 31 points in that pivotal third quarter. Taj Gibson offered one reason he and his teammates fell into foul trouble and struggled to get going in the second half.
"They're a lot of floppers," Gibson said. "There was a lot of flopping. Once that happens, it kind of makes you think, because the way they were calling the game you don't want to get another ticky-tack foul. There was a lot of ticky-tack fouls. I don't know, you just got to be aggressive."
Gibson declined to reveal exactly who was flopping, but it didn't really matter. The Pacers got into the Bulls' collective head Friday night and controlled the tempo down the stretch. They were the aggressor and the enforcer. It's a role the Bulls are used to playing -- and a role they had better get back into soon. The key for the Bulls is they must figure out what they can do to shore up an offense that has been struggled to catch fire all season.
"If we had the answer, we would do it," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Obviously, you don't want those droughts offensively -- but they happen. So you got to count on your defense. You've got to find ways to get easier baskets in transition. I think we'll play a better game on Monday."
And that was the best news of the day for the Bulls -- that they'll see the Pacers again then, in Chicago. They have a home game against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday staring them in the face, but it's Monday that is on their mind. The Bulls know there's a solid chance they'll see the Pacers again in the playoffs, and they're looking forward to the chance to send a message that they aren't backing down.
"I think they played well," Noah said. "They got out on the break. We didn't hit shots. I think we could have played a little bit better offensively, but they're a very good defensive team. You've got to give credit when credit is due. You got to respect what they do. But for us, personally, I feel like we could do a few things better."
As frustrated as the Bulls were, it was intriguing that there were no heads hanging in the locker room. Not only did the game have a playoff atmosphere, the aftermath did as well. Noah sat in his chair and shook his head in frustration, but the Bulls were confident they would respond. It felt as if they lost Game 1 of a series, not that they lost another regular-season game in the grind of an 82-game schedule.
"They're a very good team, and I'm excited to play them again in a couple days," Noah said. "And I'm excited to play them again for a long time. We'll be back."