CHICAGO | Bulls' fans have little to brag about, except maybe a few more available seats at the United Center due to an average season.
Adding to their pain are the division-leading Pacers and the phrase “changing of the guard.”
No one in Chicago wants to hear that.
“I think we've taken big strides with our team and our growth in surpassing the Chicago Bulls, but there's still lot of ball to be played,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said before Saturday's game. “We all knew they're gonna be limited without Derrick Rose.
"But that 'rivalry' talk is more for the fans. (Chicago) is the Central Division champs we've been chasing, so there's a little more 'feeling' when we play the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat -- teams that have knocked us out of the playoffs the last couple of years.”
Chicago gave Indy fans something to think about by rallying for an 87-84 win behind Luol Deng's 20 points and 18 from Carlos Boozer, who added 10 rebounds.
The Bulls held Indiana to 38.5 percent shooting and soundly outscored its bench, 32-15.
“They're such a great team, defensively,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said in his pregame interview with media. “(Roy) Hibbert protects the rim so well with his size and physicality. And (Paul) George is so disruptive, you really have to pay attention to what he's doing.”
George led the Pacers with 23 points and 11 rebounds, but missed consecutive 3-point attempts in the final seconds that would've forced overtime. Hibbert's line read 18 and 12.
The Bulls were without Joakim Noah, out with a sore right foot that's given him problems all season.
Little-used Nazr Mohammed filled in admirably, collecting 11 points and seven rebounds. Daequan Cook, another reserve, had nine points and five boards in just 17 minutes.
He suffered a scary moment late after diving head-first into the camera pit at court side chasing a loose ball. Cook left the game with a thigh bruise.
"It's important when Coach calls your name that you make the best of the opportunity," Cook said. "I was out there doing whatever I could to help the team.
"It's about preparation and though I haven't had many minutes, I feel I can play in any game."
David West (lower back sprain) was a scratch for Indiana, seeking its first season sweep of the Bulls since 2001-02.
The Pacers were ranked first in opponent field goal percentage (.414), first in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (.322) and second in points allowed per game (89.6).
They are still without All-Star Danny Granger, who recently made his season debut from a knee injury but is sidelined again with swelling.
Chicago led 68-67 after three quarters but lost guard Nate Robinson, who was ejected after his horse-collar tackle of a driving Lance Stephenson late in the third quarter.
On that play, Robinson pulled Stephenson down by grabbing his jersey from behind, causing him to strike his head on the floor.