The Indiana Pacers ran out of gas late, surrendering a crucial 9-0 run to the Denver Nuggets to turn a two point fourth quarter deficit into a double digit one to snap Indiana’s five game winning streak. All night, the Pacers struggled to find their footing, giving up big runs all night, but managed to keep the door open with opportunistic play.
Unfortunately, any time the Pacers found themselves in a positive position, that’s when the Nuggets would capitalize, putting the Pacers back in the rearview mirror. Indiana cut the lead to one towards the end of the half, but a Jamal Murray bucket to end the half keyed off a big run to start the second half, including friendly bounces on a pair of threes.
Again in the fourth, the Pacers worked the lead down to two behind four straight points from Thaddeus Young, but failed to cover the shooter as Murray again killed the Pacers by drilling a corner three that kicked off Denver’s 9-0 run to close out the win. The Pacers went three minutes without converting a field goal in the run, shooting 0-4 and missing both free throws.
By the time the Pacers started hitting shots again, the game was out of reach thanks to Denver’s free throw shooting, wrapping up a frustrating loss to an otherwise successful road trip. The Pacers wound up outshooting Denver thanks to their late buckets, but it wasn’t pretty beyond that.
The Pacers were waxed on the glass, getting outrebounded by 14, surrendering seven extra offensive rebounds. That led to eight second chance points in the first quarter, putting Indiana in a difficult position digging out from another slow start. The Nuggets also found open shooters with precision, coming up with 31 assists led by Nikola Jokic and Murray with seven each.
Jokic was an expected handful, leading the Nuggets with 30 points. A 24 point, 10 rebound night from Will Barton was a fantastic compliment as the duo shot a combined 21-35, including four threes from Jokic. Murray shot just 4-12 with 1-6 from deep, showing just how timely his shooting was.
For the Pacers, they struggled to find consistency from anyone. Victor Oladipo scored 25 on 10-19 shooting, seven of those coming in the closing moments as the Pacers played the foul game. He also filled up the stat sheet again with seven assists, six rebounds, and four steals, but didn’t get much in the way of help surrounding him.
Domantas Sabonis and Young were the only double figure scorers for the Pacers until Darren Collison hit his third three wrap up an 11 point night. Collison finished 4-6 shooting, a solid night, but not nearly enough on a night the Pacers needed a reliable second option. Myles Turner as well shot well, but offered up little else, even as he and Collison had a pair of steals each.
There is frustration in this loss, but taking a step back, it’s an unsurprising situation. The Pacers have long struggled in Denver and were entering at the end of a lengthy road trip (even one they were playing to sweep). At any point earlier in the season, this would be a shrug-and-move-on kind of loss. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort that the Pacers lost; they simply didn’t have enough to overcome the deficit they put themselves in and it wrapped up an otherwise successful 3-1 West road trip.
Unfortunately given the situation in the Eastern Conference Playoff race, this loss carries much more weight. The Pacers themselves should see nothing alarming in the loss, but it does make a play for home court advantage incredibly difficult as they fail to keep pace with Cleveland and Philadelphia, both victors again tonight.
A Washington loss does move the 46-32 Pacers to a win or Wizards loss from clinching a top five seed, but with Cleveland and LeBron James finding themselves and Philly taking full and dominating advantage of their schedule, it’s hard to see the path to home court opening up unless one of them slips up down the stretch beyond the loss one will take when they face off on Friday.
Indiana will shift their focus to their own schedule as they tip off their final four games with a home matchup against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. The Warriors are locked into the #2 seed out West, but likely won’t be as shorthanded as they were when Indiana won a week ago.