When talking about margin of error for this year's Indiana Pacers team, the answer is that they simply have none. It doesn't matter who the opponent is, how long their current losing streak is, or how much they try and give the game away; the Pacers can't afford to have efforts like they had tonight, where they have to rely on late game heroics, because that's not proven a particularly successful strategy in itself.
The Pacers were plagued by a flurry of early turnovers and missed shots as the Sacramento Kings used a 19-2 run in the first quarter to open up a 30-12 advantage. In that stretch, the Pacers shot 1-7 from the floor, but turned it over seven times, helping to contribute to the Kings scoring 22 points off turnovers on the night.
The bad play in quarters turned into a theme on the night, but so to did how Indiana closed the first, a 9-2 response that cut the lead to 11, giving the Pacers the faintest glimmer of hope despite terrible play on both sides of the ball. The Kings blew past the Pacers yet again in the second, eventually opening up at 23 point lead at 55-32 at the halfway mark of the quarter.
But once again the Pacers managed to close the quarter strong, slicing the lead down to a somewhat manageable 14 points at the break, though they still allowed a season high tying 64 points to the Kings in the first half, trailing 64-50. In the third quarter, down just 13 halfway through the third, Indiana went on a five and a half minute field goal drought, as the Kings inched their lead back up to 19.
Indiana closed on an 8-0 run, salvaging a win in the quarter and setting up an opportunity to compete in the fourth. The Pacers cut the lead to seven, but surrendered a 7-0 run that doubled the lead back to 14. Trailing 91-78 at the 6 minute mark in the fourth, Indiana did what they needed to defensively over the course of the next five minutes, holding Sacramento to just two points, but another long field goal drought by the Pacers kept them from ever truly threatening.
Eventually, the Pacers used free throws to chip the lead to four, but a tough shot by Rudy Gay sent Sacramento back up six and once again down four, Darren Collison sunk in the dagger with a big shot of his own. On the other end, the Pacers were working on a five minute field goal drought, in a stretch where five threes went awry, most good enough looks, but to no available as the Pacers fell 99-94.
The game snapped Sacramento's eight game losing streak; so the night wasn't a total loss as the Pacers proved charitable yet again in giving teams as bad as they are equal opportunities at grabbing wins. The Pacers (and Kings) shot well early, but second half struggles sent both teams into the lower 40% shooting, with Indiana's gaudy three point shooting doing nothing to help their case.
The Pacers were 5-25 from three point range, missing plenty of key looks late, led by C.J. Miles who was 1-9 on the night from three point range. Despite that, he led the team in scoring with 17 points on 6-16 shooting. David West also scored 17 on the night, getting to the line eight times, coming up with five boards and three blocks on the night.
George Hill hit a late three to put his total at 14, but was just 6-15 from the floor, though did play in spurts tonight as the Pacers could look to lift his minutes restrictions this upcoming week. Luis Scola returned to the rotation after a night off, playing well with 11 points and five boards with Ian Mahinmi offering up a solid six point, six board effort, but as a whole, it was a lackluster night, though Roy Hibbert also had a decent 11 point, seven board night.
The starting back court of Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Watson did play poorly, combining for as many turnovers as assists (seven), and shooting 4-12 for 10 points. Damjan Rudez had a pair of threes, and despite looking like maybe the biggest chance for Indiana to break out of their three point funk, was left to watch Hill and Miles chuck up 17 combined.
The Kings were led by the trio of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Darren Collison, all three breaking 20 points on the night, led by Gay with 31. Indiana had an adventure all of its own trying to figure out how to contain Gay. They never did find an answer, especially as Gay marched his way to the line for an 11-11 night from the stripe. Big nights from opposing players aren't exactly uncommon recently, but as has been the case, Indiana can't do much as a team to overcome individual performances.
Indiana drops to 1-2 in their triumphant return home, and will have a extra couple days off before tipping off Wednesday night against the Detroit Pistons, with memories of Andre Drummond's game winner from just two weeks ago still lingering fresh in their minds. On the season, however, Indiana drops to 17-32, the loss sending Indiana 1.5 games "ahead" of Sacramento, boasting the league's sixth worst record.