At no point tonight did the Indiana Pacers show any real inclination they wanted to keep their winning streak alive against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They stumbled and fumbled offensively, choking away every opportunity to put Cleveland away, leaving the door wide open and waving them to come inside.
Despite this, the Pacers still led at the end. In fact, they led by six points heading into the final four minutes of the game. They led by six, but missed a layup to push it to eight. So Cleveland cut it to two. Myles Turner gave Indiana some breathing room on a basket and a foul with two minutes to go, but missed the free throw.
That missed free throw would start an avalanche of misery for the Pacers late. Their offensive struggles throughout the game carried overly masterfully to the free throw line, when Turner’s miss dropped the Pacers to a lukewarm-at-best 12-17 on the night from the line.
Victor Oladipo would do as Oladipo does and look to carry the Pacers late, but on a foul would split a trip at the line and then miss a floater in the final minute. The Cavaliers would continue to chip away, cutting the lead to one with 12 seconds left. The ball again went to Oladipo who after being fouled and sent to the line, missed not one, but both attempts.
With three seconds left, the Pacers got their much needed stop as Rodney Hood missed his own floater, but in the midst of the rebound attempt, Larry Nance Jr. threw Oladipo to the floor, gathered the rebound, and put back the layup as time expired to give Cleveland their eighth victory of the season.
Though the two-minute report will likely validate the Pacers on the final play, at no point tonight did Indiana play as if they wanted to win this game. They got the outcome they deserved. Offensively, they were an absolute mess. They shot under 40% including 4-22 from three point range, making the 30th ranked Cavaliers defense look elite by playing with no purpose.
Their passes were too slow to get anywhere assuming there would be focused effort to make passes. Part of it was shots weren’t falling, especially from three point range, but the number of good looks the Pacers had felt non-existent. As such, the game flow consisted largely of Indiana building a 6-7 point lead, getting a stop, failing to capitalize, and then watching helplessly as the Cavs slowly erased it all.
This was especially a problem with the second unit, where Cleveland absolutely outworked the Pacers. The starting unit had their issues, but no one in particular was in position to really make the Pacers pay for their lackluster play, but the effort was noticeably improved among the second unit, feeling like a product of Matthew Dellavedova bringing that Lance-esque spark the Pacers had none of.
Nate McMillan’s adherence to his rotation may have helped contribute to the loss. Tyreke Evans might (heavy emphasis on the might) be better than Lance Stephenson, but no one is mistaking Evans for Stephenson when it comes to that extra little shot of espresso Lance would bring on nights like this when you just need a tiny push to escape with a win.
In searching for a shot of energy, the decision to stick with the old guard rotations in Evans and Cory Joseph despite them shooting 3-15 from the floor (adding in Darren Collison going 2-6) could have easily opened the door for Aaron Holiday to step in and provide a spark, something he has done this season. As it stands, that ended up not being the case, and the Pacers fell short.
Domantas Sabonis led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds. Seven of those rebounds were on the offensive end. The only reliable play the Pacers offense ran all night was getting putbacks off of offensive rebounds, which Sabonis scored 10. Thaddeus Young followed with three off of his four offensive boards, finishing with 13.
Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner each reached double figures, with Bogdanovic scoring 14 and Turner scoring 12 with 10 rebounds and four blocks. Defensively, the Pacers were as good as they needed to be. They had 10 blocks and forced 12 turnovers on seven steals. The inability to turn turnovers into points in the first half was a big problem for the Pacers, but they found success in the second half, scoring 10 as part of a 20-11 fast break advantage.
Unfortunately for them, they only had 10 on a night when they really needed to get much more to bail out their terrible half court play. Oladipo made an effort to shoot Indiana out of their funk, but those shots were few and far between tonight. He finished 4-15 from the floor with 12 points, including 1-4 from the line in Winning Time.
The thought that this could be a loss really sunk in after Oladipo missed a dunk with 7:39 left in the fourth, which would have broken a 77-all tie. Instead Cleveland scored, forcing Indiana to respond rather than be in control of the game. However, the three point shooting was plenty ominous early. The Pacers hit just four on the game despite getting some decent looks throughout the night. They had two in the fourth, including one from Doug McDermott, who had 12 on 2-4 from deep.
It would seem weird that this Pacers team would buy into a trap game mentality. They didn’t seem to be mailing it in, but rather they just didn’t seem to have it and they didn’t appear to know how to find it. The missed opportunities were amplified louder and louder as the game went on, and the worst case scenario unfolded on the missed free throws and then the Cleveland game winner. It happens, but it doesn’t make it any easier to see unfold when they tried so hard to lose.
The loss snaps Indiana’s seven game winning streak, but more importantly puts them in a very difficult position heading into the second night of a back-to-back against the East leading Toronto Raptors as the first of two road games this week. It’s hard to imagine the Pacers won’t bounce back tomorrow, but to avoid taking on a second straight loss may prove even harder.