From the outset, the Indiana Pacers weren’t prepared to play with the Minnesota Timberwolves, falling behind 17-0 and going scoreless for almost seven minutes. By the time the Pacers scored, Nate McMillan had gone deep into his bench, offering up a bench lineup featuring Damien Wilkins and Al Jefferson.
That lineup outscored the Wolves 13-6 to close out the quarter, and eventually brought the Pacers to within five halfway through the second. From that point, Minnesota went 7-0 against the Pacers starters to push it back to double figures until Darren Collison gave the starting unit their first points of the game with under five to go in the half.
The Pacers actually stayed within striking distance heading into the half, but the game was decided in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Minnesota started the second half on an 8-0 run against...the starters. Well, it was a common theme kind of game and by the time McMillan went back to the bench, they were down 26 and the wrong side of a 38-20 quarter.
Bojan Bogdanovic led the starters with 13 points, scoring all 13 in a row in the third, giving the Pacers starters their only pulse of the night. The starters had just 32 points on the night, but it extended well beyond just their ability to score; they pulled in only _ rebounds, allowing Minnesota to secure the four leading scorers with Karl-Anthony Towns finishing with 14 rebounds.
Lance Stephenson scored just five on 2-9 shooting, picking up a frustration flagrant and Myles Turner followed it up with one point on 0-5 shooting, picking up a frustration technical. It’s no real surprise the Pacers are struggling without Victor Oladipo, but they’re not only struggling, the starters look completely helpless without him.
Even with the game what it was, the second unit brought some real positives. Domantas Sabonis scored the first points of the night for Indiana, finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds. The play of Wilkins and Jefferson was the perfect veteran spark for the team to climb back in the game after the woeful start and Cory Joseph lead the Pacers with four assists along with 10.
Those three were actually above water in +/-, a stat that was led on the night by Joe Young, who finished with a career high 20 points on 7-11 shooting. With the Pacers needing a pick-me-up, Young pushed Indiana to their only winning quarter of the night. Young also had five rebounds and a pair of assists.
It’s impossible to expect the bench could have kept pace with Minnesota across the second half, but given how the first half went, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to push the fight of the starters. Bogdanovic’s third quarter was encouraging, but Collison did poorly in responding to his 30-point night, scoring just five, all in the second.
The extended garbage time did offer some positive glimpses however, not only with Young’s play, but in getting a fantastic four minute glimpse of Ike Anigbogu, playing his first game since November 12. Anigbogu scored seven points and had four rebounds and a big block, leading the Pacers in free throw attempts(!!), going 3-4 from the line.
So even in an otherwise bad loss, the Pacers had some good things to look at that would be big to be even remotely sustainable, perhaps more in regards to Young than getting extended minutes to Wilkins and Jefferson, but though the progress of the team isn’t exactly enthralled with that prospect, it should give McMillan more willingness to go away from what isn’t working on a given night.
With or without Oladipo, the starting unit must figure out a remedy to these slow starts. The first couple of weeks of the New Year will be tough for the Pacers schedule wise, and continued struggles at the beginning of games will be harder to overcome, especially with a road game against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.