Things got a little strange for the Indiana Pacers in the final 16 minutes of their perplexing loss (yes, loss) to the Orlando Magic. The Pacers had spent the better part of three quarters steadily pushing forward, but as Chris Denari aptly pointed out during the broadcast, despite being up 17 points, the Pacers probably should've been up more than they were, and it came back to haunt them in a big way as they came out on the wrong side of a 93-92 scoreboard.
After a high scoring first quarter, where the Pacers jumped out 31-28, the Indiana defense stifled the Magic offense for the next 20 minutes, holding them to just 26 points as the Pacers built a comfortable 71-54 lead. There was little doubt the Pacers were well in control of the game despite "only" being up by 17, but Indiana had no anticipation of just how big of a push the Magic were going to make to give themselves one last chance at pulling off the comeback.
Nikola Vucevic scored Orlando's next six points as part of an 8-0 run that suddenly put the game in single digits. Paul George followed up with a big three pointer that put Indiana ahead 74-62, but failed to shift momentum back in Indiana's favor as Victor Oladipo scored seven straight Magic points into the fourth quarter. The Magic continued to chop away at the Indiana lead, finally going up 78-77 with 7:48 remaining in the fourth. They didn't stop there, piling on with a Tobias Harris three point play to put Orlando up 86-79 at the 6:24 mark. When the dust settled, a stunned Pacers team had just been outscored 32-7 in a stretch of just nine minutes.
It was a nine minute stretch where Indiana's offense took an extended holiday. Poor decision making and major execution problems led to Indiana shooting just 3-13 from the field, 1-5 from three point range, 1-4 from the line, and committing four turnovers. Indiana also sent the Magic to the line 10 times in that stretch, hitting all ten. Oladipo was particularly impressive in that run, scoring 14 points on 5-8 shooting.
The run and seven-point lead left the Pacers scrambling in the game's final six minutes. David West hit a pair of free throws to cut it to five, but a Maurice Harkness layup once again moved the game to seven. The Magic would go on to miss their next five field goal attempts in the next two and a half minutes, but Indiana failed to capitalize, scoring just two points before Roy Hibbert's offensive rebounding set up a crucial Paul George three to make it an 88-86 game with 2:10 to go.
The Pacers defense couldn't stand up on ensuing possessions as the Magic scored four quick points to make it a six point game. West would split a trip to the line as George would hit another big three pointer to make it a 92-90 Orlando advantage with 37 seconds remaining. A poor three point attempt from George would send Oladipo to the line where he split a pair, pushing the lead to three.
The rebound on the missed free throw was ruled a jump ball between West and Glen Davis. Davis won the tip, but George Hill came away with it, getting a fast break dunk to bring the game to one. Crossing the half court line, George appeared to come away with a big steal, but Orlando was awarded with a timeout. The next time Orlando inbounded the ball, George appeared to once again get involved in a jump ball, but the Magic were awarded their final timeout instead.
Vucevic's ensuing inbound wound up in the hands of Lance Stephenson, who found George. George sprinting towards the basket, took a contested pull-up with time on the clock, the Pacers failing to use their final timeout to set up a potential game winner as George was unable to draw the foul while being triple-teamed, allowing the Magic to come away with a big 93-92 victory.
Despite the Magic having pulled off this win on the heels of a home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, there was no solace in falling in this one, not when the Pacers gagged it up in a way they simply haven't done this year. The Pacers are now 34-2 when they lead after the third quarter, their other loss coming on the road against Miami. They also lose their first game when allowing less than 95 points, now sitting at 32-1.
Indiana appeared incapable of matching with Orlando's new found energy late in the third quarter and were steamrolled in the worst of ways on both ends of the floor. The Pacers allowed 11 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded by seven. They lost the turnover battle and were kept out of the paint, scoring just 30 inside. Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi combined for just 10 points despite being 4-5 from the floor.
The lack of focus on Hibbert proved to be a concern in hindsight, but Mahinmi's woeful 2-6 free throw shooting certainly played a big part in Indiana's lack of ability to hold onto their diminishing lead. As a whole, the bench left plenty to be desired. Mahinmi played well despite the free throw shooting, but he was the highlight in a 17-point, 6-22 shooting night from the bench. The continued offensive struggles of Luis Scola are only being augmented when they go hand-in-hand with Danny Granger's own shooting woes.
In a one-point loss, it makes it that much easier to look at a single play as the swing factor, and the lack of production off the bench can certainly play a factor in that. But as a whole, Indiana did just enough to let this one slip through their fingers. Mahinmi's free throw shooting was part of a poor 11-19 exhibition, Indiana giving away points throughout the night, even late in the game. Paul George led the way with 27 points on 10-19 shooting, but had just two free throw attempts on his night.
George was in All-Star form in the first quarter, scoring 12 points, but despite a hot shooting start, came back to earth. His play in the fourth was a combination of big time shots and poor hero ball, but it was his shot in the face of three defenders in the game's final seconds that will certainly stand out. Orlando's usage of their final three timeouts saved them turnovers in each case (two of which would've been due to George). The Magic still managed to turn it over on their third inbound and the Pacers didn't learn from Orlando's mistakes and call a timeout after getting it across the half court.
Given the way the play was broken from the second Stephenson stole the ball and dished it off to George as he went to the floor, it seems more surprising that Frank Vogel or George didn't seem to think a timeout would've been optimal there. George has been able to draw fouls in late game situations, but relying on the officials to blow the whistle on what was a poor play anyway seems unnecessary when you can avoid it all together in favor of a good shot.
George could've also had a late dish to open shooters in George Hill and C.J. Watson, but in the end, the inability to size up a higher percentage shot once it was clear the Orlando defense was in position to stop George gave the final score of the game a particularly bitter taste. Even if the whistle is blown or George finds the bottom of the net, it would've remained an avoidable low percentage heave, but hindsight makes things seem better or worse than they often do in real time.
Stephenson, Hill, and West each joined George in double figures, led by Stephenson with 16. Stephenson played well in his return, scoring 16 points and grabbing nine boards, but his five turnovers left a black eye on his overall night given the avoidable nature of his turnovers. Hill had 12 points, dishing out seven assists and West had 14 on 5-12 shooting, but helped sooth the Orlando comeback with some key points late.
The loss drops Indiana to 39-11, setting up a back-to-back game against the Denver Nuggets tomorrow night. While the Pacers have been a step above average on the second night of back-to-backs, they are 2-0 at home this season, a record that seems to matter a little less given Indiana entered tonight's game 13-0 on the first night of back-to-backs. So stew in frustration at how the Pacers let this one slip away and hope they're doing the same as they look to avoid their second two game losing skid of the season.