CHICAGO | The Bulls were looking for someone to play the "2" guard with Rip Hamilton sidelined once again, this time by a foot injury.
So coach Tom Thibodeau, with fingers crossed, decided to start Marco Belinelli against the Pacers on Tuesday.
"Rip's been around (longer) and has more experience, but Marco does a lot of things really well off the dribble, so it gives us another playmaker," Thibodeau said in the pregame, "and he's a better passer than he's given credited for."
The 6-foot-5 Belinelli finished with six points in 24 minutes and the Bulls had 19 turnovers as the Pacers pulled away for an 80-76 win.
Paul George led the way with 34 points and 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert (11 rebounds) had the defensive play of the night, blocking Luol Deng's drive to the basket in the final seconds to preserve a 78-76 lead.
David West's two free throws with :05 remaining accounted for the final.
"He is the best in the league in exercising verticality. That is what earns him the no calls," Pacers' coach Frank Vogel said.
Thibodeau adamantly disagreed.
"In my eyes, (Deng) got wiped out. He had a layup. It was a train wreck but I don't put it on the officials," said Thibodeau, more upset that his team's reckless play led to 23 Indiana points.
"We still have to get it done. We shot ourselves in the foot. (George) made some tough shots but we've got to make it harder. The last five minutes ... we've got to be better as a team."
The Bulls (8-8) shot 38.4 percent, Indiana (9-9) 36.3 percent.
Nate Robinson provided a late spark off the bench, finishing with a team-best 19 points, but played out of control in the closing minutes.
"I definitely take the blame for this one. Down the stretch, I need to be smarter with the ball, make the right plays, and execute."
Indiana was again without All-Star forward Danny Granger, now four weeks into a 12-week recovery for left patellar tendinosis.
"They still have quality depth," Thibodeau said. "They play extremely hard and their defense is terrific."
On this night, George was unstoppable.
"Playing Chicago is always difficult. You have to pick your spots," he said. "The first basket I put in felt really good. I got into the flow and felt very relaxed."
The Bulls' Derrick Rose, slowly recovering from ACL surgery, had a private shootaround before the game and looked impressive from close in and far out.
"Derrick's focused on his rehab and we're focused on our improvement and our opponent, so he's doing fine," is all Thibodeau would say.