No one said the rebuilding life would be easy.
There are bound to be nights when the Chicago Bulls catch teams napping, and this was one of them.
There are bound to be nights when the opposing team wakes up just in time and hands the Bulls a heartbreaking defeat. This was one of those, too.
The Bulls led by as many as 17 points Wednesday at Indiana, but the Pacers took their first lead of the game on a Victor Oladipo 3-pointer with 30.1 seconds left and held on to win 98-96 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Bulls lost their 10th straight game as their NBA-worst record fell to 3-20. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t stick around very long at his postgame news conference.
“This one stings a lot,” he told reporters. “You’ve got to go out there and play with that kind of effort and energy every time you step on the floor. Then we’ll have a chance every time out. I’m proud of the effort we came out with.”
The first half went well for the Bulls, who led 30-20 after one quarter and 55-39 at halftime. They hit 7 of 15 shots from 3-point range in the first half and had 14 assists on 21 baskets.
The Bulls kept control well into the fourth quarter. David Nwaba’s reverse lay-in made it 87-71, and the lead was still 9 points with 4:52 left after Robin Lopez hit a pair of free throws.
But they couldn’t execute as the desperate Pacers turned up the defense. The Bulls made 1 of 10 shots with 4 turnovers during the final seven minutes.
Point guard Kris Dunn had a nice game, finishing with 18 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Dunn scored the Bulls’ only field goal down the stretch on a finger-roll lay-in to keep the visitors ahead 96-92 with 2:29 left.
Cory Joseph hit a jumper to bring Indiana within 2 with 1:19 remaining. After an exchange of misses, the Bulls had a chance to put the game away. But as Denzel Valentine tried to put a move on Bojan Bogdanovich, he lost the ball, Oladipo picked it up and, when the Bulls were slow to pick him up, Oladipo pulled up at the 3-point line and drained the go-ahead basket.
Dunn missed a 20-footer and the Bulls had one last chance after Oladipo split a pair of free throws with 12.8 seconds left. But they were slow to get the ball across midcourt and Lauri Markkanen had to force up a long 3-pointer that missed at the buzzer.
Lopez added 16 points for the Bulls, while Valentine scored 15 and Bobby Portis had 12 points off the bench. Oladipo scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a really, really hard (loss) because we had control for the majority of it and played really good and hard unselfish basketball,” Hoiberg said. “The big message to our team is if we continue to play with that type of effort, if we continue to play the right way, and unselfish, we’re going to start winning games.”
The Bulls sent two-way player Antonio Blakeney to the G-League and he scored a team-record 46 points for the Windy City Bulls on Wednesday afternoon at the Sears Centre without playing in the fourth quarter.
• Follow Mike’s Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls.