The sense of urgency and desperation that had defined back-to-back victories since the All-Star break vanished Sunday in a flat performance at Conseco Fieldhouse, where the Pacers won 98-91.
Instead, the Bulls didn't push the tempo enough, surrendered 17 offensive rebounds and failed to control Troy Murphy's hustle and T.J. Ford's penetration to lose to a team missing its top two scorers in Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy. Murphy led Indiana with a season-high 27 points and 14 rebounds, and Ford had 19 points and five assists.
"We didn't have a sense of urgency like we needed to," coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Salmons tallied 12 points, three assists and two blocks in 25 active minutes. Miller shot poorly but finished with six points and 10 rebounds. And Thomas sank a three-pointer 25 seconds after entering for the first time in a 15-2 third-quarter run.
"Just three old guys who have been around the league a long time and understand the basic plays," Miller said. "We got in a good rhythm."
Said Thomas: "Just spreading the floor with me and Brad. He can shoot the ball. I can shoot the ball. We played off each other."
Still, the overall feel was a work in progress, which, of course, this will be.
Del Negro surprisingly pulled Derrick Rose for Kirk Hinrich less than two minutes into the second half for failing to control Ford. Later he replaced Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas with Miller and Salmons with 3 minutes 4 seconds left in a one-possession game.
Thomas sprinted off with a look of bewilderment and headed straight for the end of the bench, then wheeled and ran to the head of the bench to pat Del Negro on his knee.
"No big deal," said Thomas, who had 16 points and showed no effects from his strained right hamstring.
The Bulls trailed just 89-88 after Ben Gordon, who led them with 28 points, hit a tough baseline jumper with 2:15 to go.
But with Hinrich in again for Rose down the stretch, Ford first banged home an 18-foot jumper over Hinrich and then, after a Gordon miss, made a hanging 9-foot bank shot over Hinrich.
With Rose back in for the ensuing possession, Salmons committed a turnover trying to feed Gordon, and Jarrett Jack found Ford for a breakaway dunk and seven-point lead with 69 seconds left.
Ballgame. The Bulls shot 27.3 percent in the fourth.
"I had a lot of nervous energy," Salmons said. "I felt I was running 100 m.p.h. After I went up and down a couple of times, it turned into regular basketball and I felt comfortable."
The Bulls looked anything but.