Forget the Bulls’ injury-plagued campaign and the Pacers’ perceived rise as the new ruler of the Central Division, as well as the successors to the title of most worthy in the East of challenging the defending-champion Heat—when it comes to this rivalry, no matter the situation going into the game, it’s almost guaranteed to be intense and come down to the wire.

Playing short-handed, as usual, the Bulls (34-26) utilized a hodge-podge crew of reserves and their typically resilient mentality to climb out of an early hole, but after tying the game in the fourth quarter, they didn’t have enough to complete the comeback against the division leaders, and fell to Indiana (38-22), 97-92, Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

With sidelined superstar Derrick Rose sitting on the bench for the first time since tearing his ACL last April—in street clothes, Rose served as a de facto assistant coach, dispensing both encouragement and advice to his teammates—the Bulls came out of the gates playing with energy, though they were countered by an equally fired-up Pacers squad.

All-Star center Joakim Noah’s (14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) recent scoring surge continued in the early going, but Indiana’s balanced attack helped the hosts jump out to a slight edge in the raucous arena, which was filled with both local loyalists and fans of the visitors.

Pacers All-Star swingman Paul George (10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) was the catalyst for Indiana, while hometown product George Hill (21 points) contributed as both a playmaker and secondary scorer, while the Bulls’ offensive woes persisted, something that wasn’t helped by a disadvantage on the glass, Carlos Boozer’s early foul trouble or the absence of starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, who joined Rose, Taj Gibson and Rip Hamilton as out of Sunday’s lineup, due to a sore right foot.