After four straight games under 100 points, the Houston Rockets were itching for a big night offensively, taking their frustration out on the Indiana Pacers, who did their best to stay close through a barrage of three point shooting. The Pacers were forced to stage three separate comeback attempts, their last push requiring a perfect go that did not come into fruition.
Out of the gate, the Pacers suffered another sluggish start, falling behind 17-5, but closed the gap immediately on an 11-0 run. It should have been obvious the kind of night they were in for when Chris Paul splashed a three to end the first to put the Rockets on top 32-31 and it wasn’t too much longer before they found out first hand.
The Pacers would tie the game up at 35-35 on a Doug McDermott four-point play, but fall behind by five when a Clint Capela alley oop from James Harden shot off 11 consecutive scoring possessions. The Pacers couldn’t come up a stop for six minutes, putting them down 70-50 when they finally did. The Rockets wouldn’t be done in the first half, scoring a pair of threes to lead by 22.
Houston hit 14 threes in the first half, thriving off of switches by the Pacers, but also just plain hitting everything. Despite having everything go against them, the Pacers remained engaged, scoring 11 straight out of the break to cut the lead in half. They got there behind the play of Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison, scoring all 11 after scoring just five combined in the first half.
Oladipo in particular came through with a big second half after a dreadful 1-9 shooting in the opening two quarters. He and Collison scored the first 20 of the third for the Pacers, drawing them to within 10. At that point, however, the Rockets began to heat up again, outscoring Indiana 18-7 to close the third, pushing their lead back up to 21.
Once again, the Pacers fought to bring the game back to within striking distance, again drawing to within 10 at 109-99 with just over four minutes remaining. Houston’s shooting came back to earth in the fourth, opening the door for the Pacers. Indiana did a better job of containing Harden in the second half when they brought a two-man trap, but once down 10, the Pacers were unable to capitalize. They shot just 2-8 from the floor to close the game, getting stuffed on shots three separate times.
Indiana also missed three costly free throws in the fourth quarter, which could have put them within seven at the four minute mark. It’s hard to say if that would have been enough, but simply having a shot go at that point makes it a two possession game rather than four, which could have changed the entire complexion of the game with Houston struggling in the fourth.
Ultimately, the Pacers could not overcome being on the wrong side of the 44-23 second quarter despite outscoring Houston 49-39 in the second half. They were outshot from three 20-11, adding in a -3 at the free throw line on a three point shot foul, and it’s easy to see just how three point shooting made all the difference given the game being a wash in nearly ever other area.
In fact, the Pacers had 24 assists to Houston’s 18, while also outscoring the Rockets 21-11 in points off turnovers. Their advantages weren’t nearly enough elsewhere, getting only 26 bench points going against an eight man Rockets rotation. Domantas Sabonis led the way with 11, but was flush with early foul trouble and committed four turnovers. His shooting from the line was a problem on a night when Indiana got their act together for the most part, shooting 3-6.
The Pacers finished 20-26 on the night, largely shooting perfectly after missing two early free throws. Unfortunately, as the game wound down, the Pacers needed more than ever to be perfect at the line and came up short in that regard. They ended up shooting better than Houston, who struggled early, but were still outscored 23-20.
Also off the bench, neither Tyreke Evans nor Cory Joseph gave much in the way of scoring, combining for 11, just six coming from Evans. Nothing looked particularly sharp regarding Evans, who has averaged just 8.0 points per game in Indiana’s last four games, in which they’ve gone 1-3.
Doug McDermott’s contributions came on his four point play, getting just eight minutes of run. The lack of play for McDermott may have been a defensive decision, but when he shot the ball in rhythm, there was no doubt it was going in. In a game decided by three point shooting, not working to set up a pure shooter comes off as positively perplexing, but Indiana’s usage of McDermott has been nothing but of late.
Oladipo finished with 22 points to lead the Pacers, shooting 6-13 in the second half. Unfortunately, he was just 1-4 after the Pacers had trimmed the lead to 10 late in the fourth. Bojan Bogdanovic filled up the stat sheet with 20 points, six rebounds, six assists, and three steals, joining Oladipo and Collison with three threes each.
Collison finished with 13, joined by Thaddeus Young in double figures with 13 himself. Young shot 6-9 from the field, but didn’t make his usual impact in other areas, coming up with just a single rebound. Myles Turner played very well early, but was also hampered with foul trouble, cutting his night short with just nine points and three rebounds after flying around with abandon as Indiana climbed back in the game early, finishing with three blocks.
Of the recent losses, this one is the one that won’t be looked upon as as much of a missed opportunity. Indiana gave a win to Houston in Indianapolis, but tonight, the Rockets simply came to play. It is unfortunate that the Pacers weren’t able to capitalize on Houston being on a back-to-back, but the Pacers themselves have had a heavy schedule load to start the year, getting just one extra day off and playing eight of their first 14 on the road.
The Pacers will get those extra days this week, not taking the court again until Friday when they host the Miami Heat for the start of another three game home stand. Nate McMillan and the coaching staff have a lot to figure out in these next few days and can hopefully bring a fresh look for Friday’s game.
Guess we’ll see.