The Indiana Pacers had their three game winning streak snapped at the hands of the Houston Rockets, suffering from self-inflicted wounds along the way, leading to a frustrating, avoidable loss. The Pacers led by six heading into the fourth quarter, but once there, the offensive froze up and the Rockets corrected their ball control issues, leaving no room for error for Indiana.
The Pacers had just six points in the first eight minutes of the fourth. The Rockets didn’t fare much better, but still managed to inch their way into the lead, jumping ahead 84-81 on a Nate McMillan technical foul. Indiana’s shot began to fall, but so too did Houston’s three point shooting. The Rockets would score their next nine on threes, forcing Indiana to respond rather than dictate.
That didn’t stop Victor Oladipo from doing all he could to push his team towards another win, scoring 10 straight, including a pair of clutch threes in the midst of Houston’s own three point shooting to bring the Pacers to within a single point with under 25 seconds left.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize from there. Oladipo’s next three was well contested, but Darren Collison drew the foul from Chris Paul, sending him to the line with five seconds left. Collison would would achingly split the front end of the trip, essentially dooming the Pacers to a 98-94 home loss.
Houston’s fourth quarter ball control, McMillan’s technical foul, and Collison’s missed free throw all played a vital role in contributing to Indiana’s loss. The Rockets through three quarters had 17 turnovers, leading to 18 Indiana points. Houston had zero turnovers in the fourth. With the Pacers struggling in the halfcourt, a fastbreak or two would’ve been a haven.
On the other end, however, the Pacers weren’t much better at controlling the basketball themselves. The Pacers had 16 turnovers in the game, each coming at what seemed like crucial moments in the game where the Pacers had an opportunity to capitalize on their slim lead after a slow start.
Indiana did not play sharp enough to combat with Houston’s activity on defense, resulting in a key error late in the game where Oladipo had the ball stripped by Harden on a drive that looked like it would easily result in a basket, ultimately allowing Houston to push the game to two possessions.
McMillan’s technical foul was the result of increasing frustrating from the Pacers about the direction of certain foul calls, especially in regards to Oladipo. Oladipo was on the wrong end of a pair of calls against Harden, including a masterful contest in the fast break, forcing a Harden miss at the rim that the refs determined must have been a foul. The MVP doesn’t miss that!
Oladipo was also called on a Harden jumper where Harden made sure to sell no contact to get to the line. Add in the officials also figuring this was not a shooting foul and it’s easy to see where McMillan’s frustration came from.
The technical itself wasn’t the issue given the way the Pacers had felt the game had been trending, unfortunately, the timing was. The tech came right after the Pacers had gotten a stop trailing 83-81, giving the Pacers an extra point they had to chase throughout the rest of the game.
That extra point loomed largest when Collison missed his free throw late. It would be the 10th free throw the Pacers missed in the game, giving them a dreadful 20-30 night from the line. Only Oladipo (2-2) and Doug McDermott (1-1) would go perfect from the line, including dreadful nights from Tyreke Evans (3-6), Bojan Bogdanovic (6-9), and Collison (2-4).
Oladipo led the way for the Pacers with 28 points, but the rest of the team struggled to rally around him offensively. Domantas Sabonis was exceptional off the bench, scoring 17 points and pulling in eight boards with five assists, but only Evans and Bogdanovic, with 11 each, would reach double figures.
Myles Turner in particular really struggled tonight, struggling to keep up with the alley oop game of Harden/Paul and Clint Capela. Turner had three blocks, but just seven points on 2-7 shooting. Likewise, Cory Joseph whiffed all together from the field, but did read the passing lanes well with four steals. On the downside, none of the steals resulted in points.
McDermott and Bogdanovic also struggled going 1-4 from three each on a night when the Pacers as a team finished just 8-28. Oladipo had four of those and Evans had two, the rest of the team combining for 2-12. Indiana was particularly bad in the corners, going 2-10 and missing all six of their attempts in the second half.
The Pacers also suffered from another sluggish start, fueled by a dreadful showing in the paint early. The Pacers shot just 6-15 in the paint in the first quarter, allowing the Rockets to jump ahead 29-22 after one. The Rockets meanwhile didn’t shoot well from three point range either, but racked up 47 attempts, allowing the totality of the makes to outweigh the misses, especially late in the fourth quarter when the threes began to fall with consistency.
Much like the game against Boston, the Pacers weren’t at their sharpest. Unfortunately, the late game heroics of Oladipo weren’t enough to fuel them to victory in spite of their mistakes tonight. The Pacers will have a chance at revenge when the two teams meet up again in Houston on Sunday.
In the meantime, Indiana will wrap up their three game home stand against another quality opponent, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time this season. Tonight’s game can hopefully leave enough of a fight in the Pacers that they’ll look to take it out on a Sixers team that will be well rested for a nationally televised audience on ESPN.