SOUTH BEND — Nate Robinson is generously listed at 5’9″ on the Chicago Bulls roster.
The diminutive guard played much bigger than his small stature Friday night versus the Pacers.
Robinson, starting in the place of Kirk Hinrich, led the way as the Bulls held off the Pacers 97-90 in the final exhibition game of the NBA preseason.
Robinson scored a game-high 21 points and dished out eight assists as the Bulls finished the preseason at 5-2 with the win in front of a sold-out crowd in the Purcell Pavilion on the Notre Dame campus.
Hinrich did not play after straining his right groin in a win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night in Chicago.
All five Bulls tallied in double figures as the “home” team closed out the preseason with wins in their final four games.
Former Warsaw Community High School and Duke standout Miles Plumlee did not play for the Pacers. The 6’11” rookie forward, whom the Pacers drafted in the first round in the 2012 NBA Draft, had played two minutes Tuesday night in a 100-82 win at Cleveland.
“I’m on pace and I feel like I’ve improved a lot individually,” said Plumlee following the game. “It’s about being ready when they need me. I love playing for the Pacers. It’s cool to be back home in Indiana. It’s a special thing.”
Plumlee was averaging five points and about two rebounds per game prior to Friday night’s contest.
Former Notre Dame star Ben Hansbrough, a rookie guard with the Pacers, played about five minutes and did not score. Older brother Tyler, in his third NBA season, had six points and two rebounds for Indiana.
“Coach (Frank Vogel) didn’t really say anything special to me before the game,” said Ben Hansbrough on his return. “This is something special for me, but at the end of the day this is a business trip for us. We’re on the road playing the Chicago Bulls and we’re trying to win and get ready for the season.”
Robinson, whom the Bulls signed as a free agent in July, may have been the lone player on either side to break a sweat in the meaningless exhibition affair. The former University of Washington standout hit 7-10 shots, none bigger than a fallaway jumper in the final minute that sealed the win.
The Pacers, who finish the preseason at 4-3, rallied to cut the Bulls lead to 93-90 with 1:08 to play after trailing by as many as 15. But, former UConn star Richard Hamilton drained a baseline jumper, the Pacers misfired on a three-point try and then Robinson knocked down his 21-footer while falling down.
The Bulls won without star Derrick Rose, who is still sidelined after knee surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee suffered versus Philadelphia in the playoffs last season.
Luol Deng scored 17 points, Carlos Boozer 13 and Joakim Noah and Hamilton 12 each for the Bulls, who had not played at Notre Dame since losing to the Pacers 106-103 exactly 12 years ago on Oct. 26, 2000.
Taj Gibson came off the Bulls bench to grab 11 rebounds, leading Chicago to a dominating 50-37 edge on the glass. The Bulls outscored the Pacers 24-7 in second-chance points.
The game was tied just once at 2-2. The Bulls led 28-16 after the opening period and 52-43 at halftime.
“The general approach and attitude has been good,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. “I think we’ve been good, but by no means are we anywhere near where we need to be. We have a lot of work to do. We need to come in everyday and do the right things. If we do that we’ll improve.”
Center Roy Hibbert paced the Pacers with 17 points. David West netted 16, Ian Mahinmi 14 and Danny Granger, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Green each 10.
The Bulls and the Pacers both open the season on Halloween. Chicago hosts the Sacramento Kings and Indiana plays at Toronto.