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Bulls blame themselves for loss to Pacers

(MCT) — INDIANAPOLIS — One of Tom Thibodeau’s favorite sayings is the Bulls have more than enough to win with, regardless of the circumstances.

It’s an impressive mindset and an accountability-inducing mantra, and it’s one reason the Bulls refused to blame a tough whistle for their 111-101 loss to the Pacers on Monday night.

Again playing without Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah and using their sixth lineup in six games, the Bulls instead mostly looked inward, pointing to 52.7 percent shooting by the Pacers and a 47-35 rebounding disadvantage.

“We have to play better defense,” Taj Gibson said simply.

In a game Pacers coach Frank Vogel dubbed a “Central Division championship,” and one rescheduled from Dec. 26 because of a postponement for severe weather, the Bulls dropped their second straight in a season series that has become a serious rivalry. The Pacers, led by David West’s 29 points, have won 14 straight home games.

“We’ll see them again,” Gibson said.

The Bulls allowed the Pacers to score a season-high 60 points in the first half and post a non-overtime high overall. Paul George added 21 points and 11 rebounds, hounding Luol Deng into 4-for-18 shooting.

Carlos Boozer returned from missing three games with a sore right hamstring to post 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes.

“I didn’t feel the same, probably like 70 percent,” Boozer said. “It felt good to be out there. I just couldn’t help my team the way I wanted to.”

Thibodeau again opted to go small down the stretch, matching Deng on West with Gibson at center. It worked as the Bulls whittled a 14-point deficit to four, taking possession after a turnover by George Hill. Marco Belinelli, who shook off a rolled right ankle to score a season-high 24 points, missed a 14-foot runner with 92 seconds remaining. But he appeared to save the ball off Roy Hibbert.

Instead, officials called the ball out of bounds before Belinelli’s save attempt and opted not to use video review.

“(Official) Mike Callahan went and asked (official Mark Lindsay) and he said there was no need,” Thibodeau said. “It’s reviewable under two minutes. It’s subjective. But if there’s any question, supposedly you do it.

“We got a tough whistle and that happens. We have to have the mental toughness to get through that. We can’t allow that frustration to lead us into not executing or recklessly fouling.”

George came down and buried a 3-pointer.

“Not taking anything from the referees because that’s probably one of the hardest jobs to do,” Nate Robinson said. “But for them not to review it — knowing the rules — that’s just self-explanatory. Either they just didn’t want to or they’re just being lazy.”

Robinson finished with 19 points, nine assists, three steals and zero turnovers, his 11th straight game in double figures.

When Belinelli retreated to the locker room after rolling his ankle on Orlando Johnson’s foot during a four-point play, seldom-used Daequan Cook logged 11 first-half minutes. More than enough, right?

Maybe not. The Bulls’ NBA-record-tying streak of 41 straight victories when scoring 100 or more points ended.

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