The Pacers may be down, but they rarely ever seem to believe that they’re out. So much so, that it almost came as more of surprise when the Pistons led from start to finish in their final meeting against the Pacers back in December than when Indiana mounted a furious 22-point comeback earlier in the season against Detroit.
“It’s like clockwork with us, man,” Oladipo joked after his team’s come-from-behind win over the Orlando Magic. “We get down, come back better in the second half. It just shows the resilience of this team.”
And it’s carrying over to the postseason, which is why it’s necessary to continue to rank all of the games in which the Pacers have rallied from a deficit of 15 or more points to win.
The Narrow Escape Game
9. Pacers comeback from 21 points down to beat Orlando Magic, 114-112
No disrespect to Lance Stephenson scoring a season-high 21 points while serving as the extra boost of charge the Pacers needed on a night when they collectively looked like they started the game low on battery life, but the Magic sort of snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.
“...I thought we came out very soft tonight,” McMillan told reporters following Saturday’s win. “The challenge to them was just ‘Let’s get our heads up and go out and be us. We can win this game.’ They felt that way and they just continued to work their way back into the game.”
After racking up 70 points on 60 percent shooting in the first half, Orlando’s anemic offense only managed to muster six points over the game’s final five minutes and change as Stephenson, Oladipo, and Sabonis indulged in a 15-0 scoring binge.
Even then, however, the Pacers left the door open for the Magic.
Aaron Gordon missed a 16-foot jump shot that would’ve tied the game with under 20 seconds to play. Then, after Johnathan Simmons was first to his miss, Sabonis fouled Gordon attacking the rim. He missed his first free throw, which forced him to intentionally miss his second. Again, the Pacers gave up yet another offensive rebound, but Simmons misfired on the potential go-ahead three.
Buzzer sounds, Pacers escape.
Credit them for digging deep to force two rather impressive shot clock violations during the fourth quarter on what was the second night of a back-to-back when they were facing a team coming off three days rest, but pushing past tired to avoid a bad loss isn’t quite enough to bump this comeback up the list.
The Self-Flagellating Post-Game Game
8. Pacers comeback from 17 points down to beat Chicago Bulls, 98-96
This almost-trap game aged better than it seemed in real time, when the Pacers only scored 39 first half points and trailed for all but 30.1 seconds. The loss pushed the Bulls to a putrid 3-20 record, but they went on to win 10 of their next 12 games.
Plus, Victor Oladipo hit this shot from his favorite spot to give the Pacers the lead for good.
Chicago still had a chance to tie the game or win after Oladipo missed a free throw with under 12 seconds to play, but Thaddeus Young contested Lauri Markkanen’s potential game-winner behind the arc.
After holding the Bulls to one made field goal over the game’s final seven minutes and draining another big, late-game shot, Oladipo opened his post-game interview with Fox Sports Indiana’s Jeremiah Johnson by charging himself with 10 push-ups for the slip up at the line.
It was perfect.
The Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots Game
7. Pacers comeback from 16 points down to beat Los Angeles Clippers, 111-104
The Pacers had two full off days in Los Angeles before facing the Clippers on a Sunday afternoon, and it showed.
They gave up 60 points in the paint, they got outscored 24-15 in fast-break points, and they allowed LA to jump out to a 16-point lead in the first half not only by surrendering a 30-point first quarter but by allowing the Clips to connect on six of their first seven shots to start the second period (five of which were easy lay-ups that were met with either very little resistance in transition or matador-style defense in the half-court).
Yet, after they closed the half on a 19-4 run to pull to within a point behind 5-of-5 shooting from Oladipo, none of this seemed to matter.
Mostly, because the Pacers made all of the shots.
Consider this: Through the game’s first three quarters, Indiana shot 6-of-20 from three. Over the final 6:30 minutes, they shot 4-of-5.
Indiana’s first-time All-Star hit two of those, first to tie the score at 88-88 and later to push the lead to five at 99-94. But, unlike some of the other games on this list, he didn’t have to be a one-man show when it counted. Myles Turner, Darren Collison, and Bojan Bogdanovic each came up big in the clutch, combining to hit a series of three consecutive jumpers during the last two minutes which managed to keep the Clippers at bay for good, both in terms of this game and most likely the postseason.
So, give the Pacers props for coming up big late against a desperate opponent, but it didn’t quite top them winning a close road game on the other end of the floor when all of the shots didn’t fall — even if it was against a short-handed opponent.
The Trap Game
6. Pacers comeback from 15 points down to beat Golden State Warriors, 92-81
Alright, so, the Pacers may have started this one appearing a little too well-aware that Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson AND Draymond Green were out. However, once they remembered that they were playing for playoff positioning against a team with limited scoring options, they did something they have yet to do this season: They rallied on the road to win by staying solid late on defense.
Admittedly, Bojan Bogdanovic made six of his last seven shots after starting the game 1-for-6, Victor Oladipo tallied the most points he’s scored this season on 12 or fewer field goal attempts, and the Pacers went on an 18-6 run to start the second half and take their first lead midway through the third quarter, but it was their commitment to run shooters off the three-point line and contest shots at the rim with active hands that allowed them to weather a dry spell in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Just consider everything that led up to Victor Oladipo stripping the ball from Patrick McCaw with under 6:30 to play:
- Lance dove on the floor for a 50/50 ball and deflected it out of bounds.
- Quinn Cook was forced to take Golden State’s penultimate timeout to get the ball inbounds.
- When the Warriors chased down a long rebound off a miss from Nick Young and swung the ball to the right corner, Oladipo ran McCaw off the three-point line.
- Once McCaw was forced to pass when multiple defenders converged on him in the paint, Sabonis closed out to David West at the free throw line.
- After West swung the ball to Cook on the right wing, Lance prevented him from going middle and Thaddeus Young trapped the box.
- When Cook tossed the ball back out to Nick Young on the left wing as a stop-release, Cory Joseph forced the extra pass to McCaw in the left corner.
- Then, Oladipo caused McCaw to lose the ball out of bounds when he drove baseline.
It was the definition of playing defense on a string and epitomized the team’s second-half of the season turnaround on that end of the floor, regardless of who was — or, wasn’t — in uniform for Golden State.
The Victor Oladipo, Overtime Games
5. Pacers comeback from 19 points down to beat Brooklyn Nets in overtime, 123-119
4. Pacers comeback from 19 points down to beat Denver Nuggets in overtime, 126-116
The high-octane guard scored 38 points and went a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line against the Nets, less than two weeks after he exploded for a career-high 47 points on 28 shots, including scoring eight of Indiana’s last 10 points in the fourth quarter.
The edge, here, goes to his performance against the Nuggets because he splashed in another clutch three to put the Pacers up by seven in OT.
And, the degree of difficulty on these driving finger rolls deserves a little more respect and admiration.
Especially since Gary Harris even tried going under this screen to keep him out of the paint and Oladipo’s chiseled frame still beat him to the rim.
The Greatest Hits Game
3. Pacers comeback from 22 points down to beat Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-95
Fresh off a pair of embarrassing thrashings, Cleveland looked like a team prepared to grind its ax on the Pacers for 48 minutes when they jumped out to a commanding, 34-12, lead at the end of the first quarter.
Instead, the Pacers rallied from a 22-point deficit, as Lance Stephenson jammed on his air guitar, frustrated LeBron James into committing an untimely technical, converted a lay-up to pull Indiana within two off a monster block by Sabonis, and finished with 16 points to go with 11 rebounds.
By the way, Oladipo hit another go-ahead three-pointer to give the Pacers the lead for good, and the basketball gods rewarded Indiana for respecting the game by making sure the officials noticed that LeBron stepped out of bounds when Darren Collison was at his mercy with under five seconds to play.
It had a little bit of everything, and it was glorious.
The OG Game
2. Pacers comeback from 22 points down to beat Detroit Pistons, 107-100
None of this so far, however, compares to the game which started it all.
Indiana was down 22 points in the third quarter against the Pistons, then Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic combined to drain three consecutive pull-up three-pointers. Lance scored all of his 13 points in the final frame, including an open above the break three which elicited some throwback pelvic thrusting. Domantas Sabonis roared, Darren Collison galloped, and they somehow ended up winning by seven.
It was a team effort, and it was also when the since-christened peanut butter and chili lineup — Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Domantas Sabonis — made its debut, finishing plus-six in less than five minutes.
With Joseph pestering the point of attack, the Pacers managed to force the Pistons into taking tough shots while still keeping an adequate amount of scoring on the floor.
To date, that group has only logged 66 minutes of action together, but they’re the most lethal five-man combination the Pacers have put on the floor during the fourth quarter (minimum 40 minutes played), outscoring opponents by a mammoth 29.5 points per 100 possessions.
But, this game didn’t just provide a glimpse at a rotation wrinkle that’s since been employed in small bursts to chip away at other sizable deficits, it set a tangible precedent for the never-say-quit attitude which has permeated throughout every comeback on this list.
Without the original, there may be no other sequels.
The Matching Suits Game
1. Pacers comeback from 17 points down to beat Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3, 92-90
By arriving at Bankers Life Fieldhouse wearing matching custom suits, the Cavaliers appeared to be protesting too much that they were more than a one-man show after it took a 46-point effort from LeBron James to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole. Yet while they talked the walk from the bus to locker room where fashion statements are made, the Pacers walked the walk on the court where games are decided.
Escalating from soft doubles to hard traps, Cleveland focused on taking Victor Oladipo out of the contest in the first half, and it worked. Rather than attacking in 4-on-3 situations and forcing the defense to commit to the next play, the Pacers got stagnant and routinely settled for resetting their offense or ended up throwing the ball away.
At halftime, the Cavs had a 17-point lead and Indiana’s scoring engine had five points on only six shots to go with four turnovers.
But then the Pacers shrank the floor on one end of the court and spaced it on the other (with Oladipo creating out of isolation plays at the top of the key more often without a screener), and they ended up accomplishing what Cleveland’s twinsy outfits couldn’t: They won, getting major contributions from players in addition to their star.
While Cavs other than LeBron shot 2-of-16 from deep over the game’s final two quarters, Bojan Bogdanovic went a perfect 4-for-4 on threes in the fourth quarter — including back-to-back long balls that pushed the Pacers ahead by seven.
In addition to exploding for a game-high 30 points on 73 percent shooting, the depth of the Croatian sharpshooter’s range was critical when the Cavs sent two defenders to Oladipo while contesting the nearest pass to the middle of the floor.
With less than five seconds remaining on the shot clock, check out how far behind the 3-point line Bogdanovic was when he managed to salvage this possession.
Oh, and, consider this: Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic combined for more deflections in Game 3 (10) than the Pacers logged as a team in Game 2 (9), which was their fewest earned since February 5 against the Washington Wizards when Victor Oladipo was out with illness.
As a product of mucking up the passing lanes and pressuring the ball, Indiana held the Cavs to a measly 12 points in the third quarter, and 34 percent shooting for the half.
Cleveland was 40-0 this season when leading after three quarters heading into this game, but as the only repeated offenders on this list they should’ve known better.
The Pacers fooled them twice, and they didn’t even have to show up dressed the same to do what they’ve already been doing all year.