'If we play this way, it's actually fun': Pacers all smiles after routing Bulls
CHICAGO — Justin Holiday's nose and mouth weren't visible with a black facemask covering them, but his expression wasn't hard to guess after the Pacers routed the Bulls 109-77 at the United Center on Monday night.
Holiday drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing to start the game, a shot that swished through the net without even touching the rim, and Indiana never looked back en route to its second straight lopsided victory.
Afterward, as Holiday sat in the United Center's visiting press conference room, he explained Indiana's approach leading up to the game.
That's when the sides of his mask raised up, revealing the smile hidden beneath it.
"As cliché as that sounds, and everybody wants to play for each other or say they do, but when we actually go out there and do it, good things happen," Holiday said. "Last game (a 111-94 home win over New Orleans on Saturday) was the game when we actually saw the result of, 'You know what? If we play this way, it's actually fun.' Everybody gets involved, everybody's touching the ball, everybody's happy."
All five Indiana starters scored in double figures Monday, including Holiday. He finished with 14 points and made four 3s for the second straight game.
Prior to trading in his jersey and shorts for a mask and street clothes, Holiday's smile was clearly visible on the court and his teammates were just as pleased. It was a night when seemingly everything went in the Pacers' favor, but if there was one player who could've found a reason to be upset, it was Chris Duarte.
After starting in his first 14 NBA games, the rookie was replaced by Holiday in the starting lineup for the second consecutive contest. However, Duarte said he doesn't mind being a reserve, and his maskless postgame smile confirmed that he wasn't lying.
"Coach talked to me about coming off the bench, and I told him, 'I'll do anything you ask me to do,'" Duarte said. "If that's what's gonna help the team win games, I will do it. I don't have no problem doing that and just staying ready."
Duarte, who is playing through a sore right shoulder, totaled nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. Holiday praised the rookie for switching roles with humility and unselfishness, which are two themes that've permeated throughout the team as of late and led to arguably its best win of the season.
"(This victory) says a lot. It says how good we are," Duarte said. "We just gotta bring that same energy day in and day out. Keep playing together and moving the ball."
Indiana had 27 assists on 40 field goals Monday, countering every Bulls run with a run of its own to improve to 3-9 on the road.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle acknowledged his team's fortune, as Chicago was without two-time all-star Nikola Vucevic (COVID-19) and lockdown defender Alex Caruso (left wrist) on the second night of a Bulls back-to-back. But nevertheless, he hopes Monday's win is a sign of things — and smiles — to come.
"It feels like we're getting our footing," Carlisle said. "And we're a team that's not gonna get any free lunch from anybody. That's clear. ... We're gonna have to earn it. We're gonna have to earn it on every possession. We've gotta embrace that fact, and it's gotta be something that brings us closer and closer together."