It seemed that it will be a very long night for the Bulls when they visited the mighty Indiana Pacers on December 21st, 1994. Chicago starters Scootie Pippen and Larry Krystkowiak were out with injuries, but the second-year pro, Toni Kukoč, and the rest of the Bulls showed they are no pushovers
Coming into this game the Bulls’ second-leading scorer with 14.7 ppg was Phil Jackson‘s primary weapon off the bench. To that point that was Kukoč’s first start ever since his rookie season, over nine months earlier – on March 2nd, 1994 when he scored only 5 points on 2-9 shooting vs. the visiting L.A. Lakers.
With Pippen and Krystkowiak out Jackson had to alter his plan and start two players who usually came off the bench – Kukoč and 6’9’’ rookie Dickey Simpkins, who averaged 4.6 ppg prior to that game.
“Well, coach likes him (Kukoč) to bring his offense in midway in the first period. He’s got to do it now at the start.”Johnny Kerr, Chicago Bulls broadcaster
He could outrun the Pacers in the transition, and go around or pass over his peer at the forward position Derrick McKey. When picked up by Reggie Miller, Toni could easily post him up and score.
Pink Panther amazed 16,572 fans in the Market Square Arena with his gorgeous no-look passes – he executed those with the extreme precision, delivering the ball right in the hands of his teammates. The Croatian Sensation also delivered a number of huge perimeter baskets down the stretch, keeping the Bulls in contention until late in the game, eventually hitting 11-18 of his field-goal attempts.
The Bulls eventually lost the close game 107-99 but Kukoč delivered as expected – that night he played 38 minutes and registered a near triple-double – 24 points, 9 boards, and 7 assists. His stat line from this particular game is just another in the long line of evidence that Kukoč was definitely a player who could take over leadership duties and carry the team on his shoulders.
Only two days later, in a 24-point blowout win over the Pacers in Chicago, Kukoč led all scorers with 27 points, on 11-15 shooting from the field. Next season (1995-96), best known for the Chicago Bulls 72-10 season, Toni Kukoč was voted as the NBA Sixth Man of the Year.