INDIANAPOLIS — Kirk Hinrich sported a gash above his right eye that required five stitches, and he hobbled on a severely sprained left ankle to play 39 minutes.
He had little choice.
Their physical pain ultimately paled in comparison to their emotional hurt after somehow coughing up a 107-105 loss to the Pacers that dropped their lead for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot to one game.
T.J. Ford, who shredded the Bulls' defense all night with penetration, sank a 10-foot fadeaway jumper over Derrick Rose with 3.9 seconds left, capping an 11-2 Pacers' run over the final 3 minutes 45 seconds.
Ben Gordon's 26-foot fallaway with 1.5 seconds left had no chance. Now the Bulls' playoff hopes have even less chance considering Charlotte, which comes to Chicago on April 11, is lurking one game back and owns the tiebreaker.
"We didn't execute again down the stretch," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It's frustrating."
The Bulls led 103-96 when Tyrus Thomas slammed home an ally-oop from Brad Miller. Then the wheels fell off. Hinrich, otherwise brilliant with 20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals, missed two free throws with three minutes left.
That seemed to embolden Indiana, which took a 105-103 lead with 42.7 seconds left when Danny Granger finished off a two-man game with Ford up top with a three-pointer.
Gordon, who missed his first seven shots en route to a 5-for-18 night, quickly tied it with a 17-footer out of a timeout. But Ford, who had 22 points and nine assists off the bench, worked his magic over Rose, who was getting stretched out all game during timeouts for a sore lower back.
"Great shot," Del Negro said. "We played good defense."
So did Indiana, which switched Granger to Gordon on his final attempt, forcing him almost to the sideline.
"Ben can make those shots," Del Negro said. "He just didn't get his feet under him. It shouldn't have come to that. But it did."
The loss wasted a gritty performance, considering that of the nine players in uniform, four needed a trainer's attention during the game. Besides Hinrich and Rose, Gordon also needed to be stretched out for tight quads, and Tim Thomas is still battling a sore back.
The Bulls basically played without a small forward when Salmons, who will get an MRI on Wednesday, sat for the first time as a Bull.
"It's hurting pretty bad," Salmons said. "We decided to try to rest it because we have three days off. Hopefully, it'll heal up so I can go Saturday."
Rose led the Bulls with 24 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun