The road without Victor Oladipo was never going to be an easy one for the Indiana Pacers, but following a wire-to-wire loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, it appears it may be more arduous than anticipated. Part of that was to be expected: the Pacers lost their upside as a team with Oladipo going out, creating a razor thin margin for error.
The lack of reliability offensively was an issue all night and no one came close to stepping into any kind of leading role as a scorer. That won’t be the issue every night, sure, but on nights like this, when wins are there, it will be amplified in ways the roster will have a bear of a time overcoming.
They lost by just three points in a game that was, and wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The Pacers fell flat on their faces out of the gate, missing their first five shots and committing as many turnovers before Thaddeus Young finally made a shot with 5:53 remaining in the first quarter. The Pacers shot 4-14 in the quarter, making a living at the free throw line to keep the game within five.
That they’d trail shooting so poorly is no surprise, but the overall effort was such a mess that it was a minor miracle it was only a five point game. The Pacers not only turned the ball over at all, the energy wasn’t anywhere close to acceptable, allowing the Grizzlies to pull in five offensive rebounds, leading to five second chance points in the quarter.
The second unit did help provide a much needed spark for the Pacers thanks in large part to the play of Aaron Holiday. Holiday matched wits with his older brothers Justin Holiday at the end of the first, hitting a three in response to Justin to make it a five point game. Holiday had all seven of his points in the first half, but his play in the second quarter to finally garner some offense was met with a Memphis push on the other end, ultimately creating a stalemate for when the starters returned.
Indiana cut the lead to three with 3:09 remaining in the half, but the failure to corral the rebound off of a Mike Conley miss resulted in Conley getting those points back in the form of free throws, doubling the lead. A confusing pass from Darren Collison led Conley to pick up a steal and step into a three pointer. Before the Pacers could gather themselves, Memphis went into the half up into double figures thanks to an 8-0 run.
That sort of back and forth continued for, well, the entire second half. The Pacers managed to chip away at a nine point deficit at the midway point of the third quarter, scoring seven straight to make a two point game. It was cut to two on a Myles Turner three pointer, his first of the night.
With momentum appearing to finally shift, Memphis went back down on the other end and Turner timed a block that...missed, giving up a dunk to Ivan Rabb. Through the night, it felt as if there were a million different things working against the Pacers outside of their own shortcomings, but that dunk felt big. It halted the run, gave Memphis some breathing room, and kept Turner from stepping into a scenario in which he could control the game on both ends.
All was not lost on the dunk, however. The Pacers scored the next four, including a Turner hurricane dunk that tied the game at 67-67. Like the Turner basket before it, Indiana failed to secure a stop on the other end, which coupled with a 1-7 shooting streak to end the quarter, allowed the Grizzlies to close the quarter on an 11-2 run.
For those keeping track at home, Memphis outscored Indiana 23-6 in the final three minutes of the second and third quarters. That’s hard enough to overcome when you aren’t looking around for some help, much less on nights when you are. The Pacers continued to make a push, however, cutting the lead to six, then to five, then to three, but each time they got there, it was Memphis who flipped the game back in their favor, pushing it out of reach.
The game remained winnable in the most surprising way, however. Bojan Bogdanovic hit four straight free throws to cut the lead to four with 3:49 remaining, yet as a team were unable to secure the necessary stops, allowing Memphis to score on three straight threes that made it a 12-point game with two minutes to go, effectively wrapping up the win.
For all their struggles, the Pacers picked that moment to wake up offensively. They hit four threes in the final 75 seconds of the game, coupled with a couple of trips at the line for Darren Collison. Collison was needlessly fouled twice by Conley in the final 30 seconds, but failed to secure a three point play opportunity, allowing the Grizzlies to simply hold on for their first win in nine tries.
The Pacers got five double figure scorers, including a 21-point night from Bogdanovic, but it wasn’t an encouraging showing as a whole. The late flurry of points buffed up some otherwise mediocre scoring numbers, in particular with Bogdanovic, who shot 6-14. It helped both Turner (14) and Collison (18) wrap up decent totals, alas just a bit too late.
Off the bench, no one shot over 50%, including Domantas Sabonis at 3-7 and Cory Joseph at 3-8, both reaching double figures with 11 and 10 respectively. Holiday was a nice spark early in the game, but couldn’t find the bottom of the net in the second half.
Indiana had 18 turnovers on the night, leading to 20 Memphis points. Assisting only 20 times in the game also spelled doom for the Pacers, falling to 1-7 in games where have 20 or less. Part of it was just guys not hitting shots, but there also didn’t appear to be much confidence to go around.
That in and of itself is a bit of a surprise given how Indiana did find themselves in good position when Oladipo missed 11 games earlier in the season, but perhaps the complete absence of Vic changes things compared to when he was at least on the bench providing energy. They finally got some shots to go late in the game and it will be interesting to see if that will help them moving forward.
With the upcoming schedule, however, that may simply not matter and that in particular is what makes this loss such a tough one to take on. The Pacers are entering a six game stretch with five on the road, mostly against lower-tier Eastern Conference playoff contenders. Given Indiana’s newfound circumstances, that ramps up the challenge up quite a bit.
To make matters that much worse, Indiana’s lone home game will be Monday night against the Golden State Warriors. Last season, the Pacers were a benefit of schedule against Golden State, using their injuries to their advantage for a pair of wins. This year, it will be the exact opposite.
The Warriors will enter on a 10-game winning streak all while incorporating DeMarcus Cousins, making them that much better. From here on out, the Pacers will struggle to have the best player on the floor against most opponents, but on Monday, they won’t have one of the five best players on the floor. So that could be fun.