December 30, 2017 / 3:54 AM / in 6 months

Confident Mirotic sparks Bulls to win over Pacers

Confident Mirotic sparks Bulls to win over Pacers

CHICAGO — Nikola Mirotic plays with a brand of confidence that tends to be contagious among his Chicago Bulls teammates.

The fact the Bulls have won 10 of the 12 games Mirotic has appeared in after Chicago started the season losing 20 of its first 23 continues to prove that to be true.

So, when Mirotic came off the Bulls bench firing on Friday, it only made sense that his teammates followed suit.

Rookie Lauri Markkanen scored a career-high 32 points, Mirotic finished with 28 and the Bulls matched a franchise record with 18 3-pointers in a 119-107 victory over the Indiana Pacers at the United Center.

Chicago (13-22) used a 12-1 scoring surge the fourth quarter to record its latest win, and it finished the game 18 of 39 from 3-point range.

Mirotic led the 3-point barrage by hitting eight from beyond the arc while Markkanen hit five 3-pointers.

“I told myself today before the game that I had to be aggressive a little bit more and that’s what I did,” said Mirotic, who attempted just four shots in a 92-87 win over the New York Knicks Wednesday. “It felt great making the first couple of threes and then my teammates tried to find me. It was just fun.”

There was plenty of that going around as the Bulls also matched a season high with the 18 3-pointers and finished the victory with 31 assists.

Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis each scored 12 points for Chicago, which also got 11 points from both Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant, who also finished with 11 assists.

Chicago, which led by as many as 19 points, saw its lead drop to just seven points early in the fourth quarter. But the Bulls went on a 12-1 run to push its advantage to 98-80 when Portis hit a jumper with 9:19 remaining.

Indiana, which played for the second straight game without injured leading scorer Victor Oladipo (right knee soreness and swelling) never responded.

“We’ve lost that sense of urgency,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We’re giving up big quarters defensively. Defensively, teams are really coming out and just jumping on us and we’ve got to pick it up.”

Darren Collison scored 30 points for the Pacers (19-17), who lost their third straight game. Lance Stephenson, who started for Oladipo for the second straight game, finished with 18 points and nine rebounds while Domantas Sabonis scored 14 points. Myles Turner (11 points) and Thaddeus Young (10 points) also reached double figures for Indiana.

But Indiana’s inability to keep the Bulls from connecting from 3-point range proved too much of an obstacle for the Pacers to overcome.

“We just did not challenge their threes,” McMillan said. “They will shoot the ball two or three steps behind the 3-point line and once a guy hits one or two (threes), you’ve got to get up on (him).”

The Pacers got to within eight points in the third quarter, but the Bulls responded as Markkanen connected on a 3-pointer and Lopez hit a short jumper to push the lead back to 13. Markkanen scored 10 points in the third quarter when the Bulls led by double figures before Collison hit a jumper with 2.3 seconds remaining to get the Pacers to within 86-77.

After Chicago made its fourth-quarter push to rebuild its double-digit advantage, the Bulls kept rolling to keep its winning ways intact.

“It’s a lot more fun to win than to lose,” Markkanen said. “We’re doing that as a team.”

But like he has since returning after missing the season’s first 23 games, Mirotic is a major reason why the Bulls have hit their stride.

“I’ve been playing great and I can score 20 each game, but it’s not just about scoring, it’s about winning,” Mirotic said. “That’s what makes me very happy and very confident — the team is winning.”

NOTES: Pacers G Victor Oladipo missed his second straight game with right knee soreness and swelling. Lance Stephenson started in Oladipo’s place. Coach Nate McMillan said Oladipo is doubtful for Indiana’s game Sunday against Minnesota and will be re-evaluated next week. ... Bulls starting G Kris Dunn was a late scratch with left patella tendinitis. ...G Zach LaVine (torn ACL) will begin a stretch of six straight days of taking contact in practice Saturday. LaVine will practice with the Bulls Saturday and then spend four straight days with Chicago’s G League affiliate, the Windy City Bulls, before re-joining the Bulls next week. “Obviously, it’s a very important part of the process for Zach,” coach Fred Hoiberg said...The Bulls recalled F/C Cristiano Felicio from Windy City on Friday after he recorded a double-double (22 points, 14 rebounds) on Thursday against the Canton Charge in Cleveland.

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