The defensive end of the ball proved the issue yet again for the Indiana Pacers, suffering a second straight double figure loss, this time at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks torched the Pacers inside, not only scoring 62 points in the paint, but doing so with precision, consistency, and ease.
From a game flow perspective, it was a familiar pattern every quarter: Pacers fall behind by double figures, climb back, make it respectable heading into the next period. By the time they got to the fourth, Dallas overcame their struggles from deep, hitting four in the quarter, to run away from Indiana in the end.
The Pacers had a lot of really good stretches in the game, however. The intensity brought by the bench pulled them out of the fire numerous times tonight, but the ease in which Dallas could score was simply too much for the offense to keep pace with. They had two real leads in the second half, up 70-67 early in the third and 91-88 at the tail end of it. The fallout of those leads on the other hand…not so great.
They took the 70-67 lead on five straight points from Edmond Sumner. After T.J. McConnell and JaKarr Sampson lifted the Pacers back into the game following a double figure deficit in the second, Sumner brought the same tenacity to the start of the third, getting rewarded with the back-to-back buckets, the second a nice three to give Indiana the edge.
Kristaps Porzingis immediately responded with an alley oop from Luka Doncic, scoring seven straight to push the lead to four. It would double up to eight around the midpoint of the quarter when the Indiana defense had probably their best stretch of the game, forcing stops and building a 10-2 run to tie the game at 86-86.
Malcolm Brogdon led the charge in this stretch, scoring seven straight Pacers points, hitting a three with 1:29 in the third to put Indiana on top. After a stop, Brogdon found Justin Holiday for an alley oop of his own, to put the Pacers on top by three. Like clockwork, Porzingis scored on an and-one to erase the deficit, then finding Jalen Bruson for a floater to end the third up one.
Holiday gave Indiana a 94-93 lead to start the fourth only to allow eight points in just over a minute, staring at a 101-94 game, all manufactured with Doncic on the bench. This was especially noteworthy given how lethal Doncic was in probing the Indiana defense. Part of their defensive struggles came from the same defensive tricks that had worked in previous games, but the attempts to trap Doncic only resulted in wide-open shots around the rim.
The Pacers weren’t able to recover from the deficit this time, as Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 19 following a scoreless outing against Toronto, hitting some much needed threes to close out the win after Dallas had struggled all night to connect from deep. Once the Mavs did that, it was time to turn out the lights on a Pacers team that had shot exceptionally well from deep, but could only muster a three-point lead at best despite that.
Indiana finished 16-39 from three point range, using each and every make to their advantage in covering up their defensive struggles. Domantas Sabonis in particular was on point, hitting three of his four attempts, but it was the brightest spot in an otherwise frustrating game from Sabonis.
Sabonis had 25 on the night, but outside of the threes, each and every point felt like a chore. Challenging Porzingis and Willy Cauley-Stein at the rim proved adventurous at best and when he was able to draw the foul on them, he struggled at the line, shooting 4-9. The inability to get easy shots around the rim (the Pacers as a team had just 42 points in the paint) was also a struggle for Doug McDermott, who finished 4-14 with 12 points, also having a difficult time getting free throws to fall, going 2-4.
Even Brogdon, who had a solid night offensively with 26 points, only had two points in the paint in the second half. The Pacers also didn’t get the same energy boost in the second half from the bench. In the first half, the duo of McConnell and Sampson flipped the game in Indiana’s favor, helped out by a pair of back-to-back threes from Aaron Holiday.
Jeremy Lamb, returning to action for the first time February 23, 2020, got in on the action as well in the first half, scoring 10 points. His smooth scoring ability didn’t miss a step in that half, completely overshadowing a pair of errant passes and ball handling situations. In the second half, however, the rust was on full display, with two of his shots careening wildly off the glass.
It was a good first half showing from the bench in general, but after 21 first half points (including a McConnell three!), they had just five points from A. Holiday at the tail end of the fourth. With the wing rotation short-handed for the time being, Lamb is a much-needed addition to the roster in general, opening up things offensively for a second unit that doesn’t have a lot of options outside of A. Holiday.
The Pacers finish their eight (once nine) game stretch against Western Conference opponents at 4-4, which like the 2-2 road trip, is probably good enough given the challenges the roster is facing with players out. That said, it was still a poor effort on the defensive end that allowed this game to end the way it did and that’s been the most obvious fault in each of those four losses.
Fortunately, the initial prognosis on Myles Turner’s fractured hand may not result in as much downtime as originally thought, especially with Turner’s willingness to fight through it. Whether it’s a good idea to effectively rush him back or not, the Pacers should find themselves in bounce back mode either way, playing their next five games against teams currently out of the playoffs, starting with the Orlando Magic on Friday.