Losses don’t get much worse than the one the Indiana Pacers took on tonight to the Dallas Mavericks. Indiana was never able to put their stamp on the game, allowing the Mavs to not only hang around, but dictate much of the game, which had two distinct faces: a three-quarter slugfest and an offensive explosion in the fourth.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, they didn’t win either battle, especially in closing quarters. Not only did the Mavericks go 3-3 in end of quarter buckets for eight points in the first three quarters, they outscored Indiana 22-6 in the final two minutes of each quarter, proving detrimental to the Pacers, who lacked fight, focus, and Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo scored 21 points on the night, but played just 23 minutes due to foul trouble. He played less than 15 minutes in the first three quarters, never being on the floor past the four minute mark in any of them. It’s no surprise the game finally opened up offensively for the Pacers when he avoided foul trouble in the fourth, but despite scoring 13 in the final quarter, any positives the offense showed couldn’t be shared with the Indiana defense.
To be fair, the Pacers were a wreck defensively long before the start of the fourth quarter. They were slow in closing on shooters and weren’t active in forcing turnovers, but even with that, the Mavs only really made the Pacers pay only in stretches, particularly to end quarters. The 22 points in the six minutes to close the first three quarters was nearly a third of their total output as the game sloughed to 68-65 heading into the fourth.
That overall trend coupled with a more focused offensive output should have been enough to put Indiana into the win column, but what happened instead is that the Pacers failed to secure a single stop for five minutes straight, helplessly watching the Dallas lead balloon into double digits. That one stop didn’t deter the Mavericks, as they rallied for three more minutes of consecutive scoring plays.
Subscribing to a better late than never tactic, Indiana staged a furious comeback, drawing the game to within two, but a missed Oladipo free throw that led to a back-breaking Wesley Matthews three would push the lead back to five. The Pacers again cut the lead to two with 14 seconds remaining, and a would be Oladipo steal on the ensuing inbounds would be ruled out of bounds, effectively wrapping up an avoidable 109-103 loss.
By the time the dust settled in the fourth, Dallas had outscored Indiana 41-38 in the quarter, an exciting NFL game to be sure, but not so much a formula for success if your goal is to stage a comeback in the NBA. There were many other factors that contributed to the loss, most glaringly, the gap in three point shooting.
The Mavs went 14-37 from deep while the Pacers were a paltry 5-20. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that a Pacers player not named Myles Turner even hit a three, the bench finishing 0-7 from deep. Compared to Dallas’s second unit who shot 8-13 (including 4-4 from Doug McDermott), and it’s no surprise Indiana’s bench was outscored 44-23.
The poor bench effort from the Pacers was highlighted by a 3-10 night from Lance Stephenson, who speaking of threes wasn’t even close on his attempts, ultimately allowing McDermott to hit one at the end of the third when the Pacers had the ball on the final possession. Likewise, Joe Young struggled big time, going 1-5 himself, also failing to inspire much confidence.
The lone positive off the bench was the play of Glenn Robinson III. Robinson had 10 points in his second game back, shooting 4-6 and looking comfortable in shooting it. He even put down his first dunk of the season.
In the game as a whole, the Pacers were carried by Turner, who had a big 24 point, 11 rebound double double, totaling three blocks as well. Turner shot 10-14 from the floor, which seems like too few attempts when he was the lifeblood of Indiana’s offense for three quarters.
Outside of him, there was no big secondary contribution to help the Pacers find some much needed scoring with Oladipo glued to the bench. Bojan Bogdanovic had 19 points, but didn’t have a three through three quarters (likewise with Cory Joseph, Turner hit Indiana’s only two threes in that span). Thaddeus Young had 14 rebounds, but had one of his nights where he couldn’t buy a bucket, scoring six on 2-11 shooting.
The loss drops Indiana to 34-26, which isn’t detrimental to their standing tonight, but has a real chance of coming back on them later in the season. In this four game road trip, the Pacers could afford no worse than a 2-0 start with rivalry games against Milwaukee and Washington coming up, but they now sit at 0-1 with those games still on the horizon.
It’s possible this will fire Indiana up for the rest of this trip, but these are still the losses that the Pacers can’t afford to take on with the standings in the shape they’re in. These are the kinds of losses that put Indiana in position to face Cleveland in the first round last season and this is the kind of loss that could very easily do the same this year. Don’t forget that the Pacers have one of the most difficult schedules to close the regular season, this was a bad game to let slip away.
The Pacers will have another chance to take care of business when they face the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. It’s easy to expect a much more focused effort following this loss, but the Pacers weren’t the sharpest in their previous game against Atlanta either. The Pacers will need to bring a greater focus as they look to move to 3-0 against the Hawks.