An inauspicious start for the Indiana Pacers proved to be just enough to keep them out of the win column against the Los Angeles Lakers, providing no answer late when LeBron James took control and closed out the win. Indiana kicked off the third game of the West Coast trip in the worst way possible, starting 2-20 from the field and shooting just 20% in the first quarter.
The Pacers took their first quarter struggles throughout the season and went full “hold my beer,” scoring just 15 points, getting stuffed at the rim seven times, and being completely unprepared to match up with Los Angeles’s energy. The Lakers meanwhile flourished, shooting 70% in the quarter and scoring 38.
After falling behind by as many as 24 early in the second quarter, the Pacers were slowly able to chip away at the lead behind the play of Domantas Sabonis, who finally got Indiana some offensive consistency, drawing the Pacers to within 12 with five minutes left in the half. The Lakers scored the next four before Indiana’s three point shooting helped the Pacers close the half on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to six.
Indiana hit six second quarter threes, impressive in part because they had only five field goals in the first quarter. The shooting finding its level helped the game level out as the Pacers went into the half winning the second quarter 35-18. Out of the half, the two teams traded punches before the Pacers broke through, scoring eight straight to take a 69-66 lead.
Not surprisingly, the lead would prove to be short lived entirely due to the play of James, who scored the next five to regain the lead for Los Angeles. Indiana stayed within reach, but slowly faded as the Lakers pushed their lead to eight to end the third, giving them an important 27-25 win in the quarter. James played the entirety of the third quarter and when he finally sat to start the fourth, the Pacers were unable to fully capitalize.
The teams again matched wits when Indiana finally cut the lead in half with 7:30 remaining, just in time for James to return. After the Lakers scored, the Pacers worked back into the game, scoring five straight to cut the lead to one. Even in doing so, they missed two shots to go with a turnover. While the defense was able to get stops, their failure to break through would soon come back on them.
In a stretch that was both simultaneously a recurring nightmare and a huge sigh of relief, James would put the Lakers on his back to score the next six, dishing to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for a quick three, and then scoring five more to ensure the Pacers had no chance of coming back, leading the Lakers to a 104-96 win.
James finished a masterful outing of 38 points on 15-27 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists, and two steals in 38 minutes of action. It was painfully familiar, a reminder that while the Pacers may give James all he can handle, he’s always got more than enough in the reserve to push his team over the top when all is said and done.
It’s never fun to lose to James, but hey, at least he’s in the West now and the Pacers only have to deal with the tough fadeaways, the timely threes, the seemingly always favorable calls one more time this season. At the same time, this was also about who Indiana didn’t have. Down the stretch, the Pacers were outscored 15-8, shooting 2-7.
There was no one Indiana could lean on to keep them in the game, especially not after Sabonis went to the bench. Sabonis led the way for the Pacers with 20 points and 15 rebounds, helping Indiana back into the game with a stellar 16 point first half. Unfortunately, the help just wasn’t there.
The awful first quarter helped ensure that no starter shot anywhere close to 50% for the game, with Bojan Bogdanovic leading the bunch with 14. Thaddeus Young scored 11 points on 5-13 shooting. He did have a game high five steals. The Pacers actually did a good job throughout the night of creating turnovers. Young, Darren Collison, and Tyreke Evans combined for 12 steals, but despite forcing 18 turnovers on the night, Indiana only scored 13 off of them, while their own miscues turned into 20 points by Los Angeles.
Evans in particular had six turnovers in a wildly hot and cold night that saw him hit two big threes, including the one to put Indiana up. He was one of only two starters to reach the line multiple times, going 3-4. However, he would go on to finish just 2-10 from the field, including getting blocked by the rim on a wide open layup that could have cut the lead to five. Instead, the Lakers hit a three, completing a dagger five-point swing.
The second unit played much better, with both Doug McDermott and Cory Joseph scoring 10. Joseph had six rebounds and six assists, but missed three of his four shots late during stretches when the Lakers were on runs. Aaron Holiday as well was more contained than he has been offensively, scoring a rotation low of seven. McDermott hit two of his three three attempts, but Los Angeles did a good job defensively to limit McDermott’s overall impact as a shooter.
A perfect road trip was likely unreasonable for the Pacers especially given Victor Oladipo’s absence, but despite a frustrating finish, it was encouraging to see them show up and make a game of it after the horrifying display that was the first quarter. They’ve still put themselves in position for a winning road trip however, wrapping up on Saturday night against the upstart Sacramento Kings. The Kings will also enter on a loss, falling tonight at home to the other Los Angeles team, putting them at 5-5 at home.