The Indiana Pacers drop their second game in three tries, slipping behind the Denver Nuggets 7-0 out of the gate and despite holding an 18-17 advantage in the first quarter, would spend all night trying to make up those opening points. Denver responded to Indiana's one point edge with a 16-0 run, getting big play from Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler in the first half to score 33 second quarter points, pushing their lead to 19 points at the break.
Indiana opened the third quarter on an 11-0 run before Randy Foye helped Denver regain their composure with a big three pointer. Indiana would trim the lead to six, but their inability to contain Chandler, who had 13 third quarter points, including three and-ones, squandered an offensive explosion for the Pacers, who put up a season high 40 points in the quarter, only trimming the lead in half by allowing 31.
Things didn't change much in the fourth quarter; the Pacers pushed, but when the Nuggets needed a stop, they came away with them far more frequently than Indiana was ever able to. Offensive fouls and frustration about officiating rattled the Pacers, who once again had three technical fouls in a game they committed 27 fouls, allowed 37 free throw attempts, and had both Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi foul out.
The blueprint for beating the Pacers is painfully obvious: play the team on a second night of a back-to-back (Indiana drops to 6-6 in those games), score over 94 points (Indiana is now 4-9 when they allow over 94 points), or hope you're at home so you can get Roy Hibbert in foul trouble (the Pacers are 3-5 when Hibbert had five or more fouls, all games have been on the road). All three happened for Denver tonight, who not only got a season high 25 from Chandler, but excelled in transition with 21 points and 19 points off turnovers.
Indiana, continued to struggle with the pick and roll defense, which the Nuggets used to their advantage when attacking the paint relentlessly, getting calls almost every trip inside despite the fact they missed 16 free throws. Hibbert played just 20 minutes, but the Pacers were a +3 when he was on the floor. His presence was missed when Mahinmi was in the game, as it was open season on the interior defense of the Pacers.
In a night the bench needed to step up big to relieve any potential fatigue, it was mostly awful. Luis Scola continues to struggle shooting the ball (when not receiving passes from Lance Stephenson anyway) and the bench's brightest spot with C.J. Watson opening the fourth quarter was squandered when he couldn't convert a layup after a huge steal that could've cut the lead to four.
Stephenson led the way for the Pacers with 23 points on 10-16 shooting, almost every basket of his coming in the paint, also grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing seven assists. His play was the brightest spot of Indiana's night, but it wasn't without its own drawbacks as he had six of Indiana's 17 turnovers on the night. The Pacers probably could've used more George Hill on offense, who was the only player besides Stephenson who seemed to have any luck on shooting, going 4-6 with 10 points and four assists.
Both Paul George and David West on the other hand struggled mightily shooting the ball, with George shooting 6-18 and West 6-19. George had 11 rebounds and six assists, but four turnovers and four missed free throws didn't help Indiana's cause. The Pacers despite being behind in free throw attempts, missed 10 on the night, giving back any advantage they might have against Denver's poor free throw conversion. West had 16 and six, but struggled against Kenneth Faried, who was quick to let West know it.
All in all, it was another frustrating game in what's turned into nothing short of a frustrating road trip. After opening with a huge win over Golden State, the Pacers were a Paul George four-point play from sliding into a three game losing streak where they hadn't looked anything like the Indiana Pacers team from the first half of the season, especially on the defensive end, where they once again allow not only 100 points, but well into the triple digit range with 109 tonight.
The Pacers will have a couple days off to get right and get themselves prepared for the final game of their road trip on Tuesday night when they face the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center with a 10:30 PM ET tipoff. While the Lakers struggles this season are well documented, the Pacers will have a chance to win their fourth straight game over Los Angeles in Los Angeles after they had lost 11 straight leading up to it. But the Pacers haven't won a game by more than three points and unless their defense can play a solid 48 minutes, they stand the chance of coming away with a 2-3 road trip.