With the injury report claiming Goga Bitadze with a concussion, the Indiana Pacers continued fielding a short-handed roster in their third game of the season against the Detroit Pistons. The early season matchup hasn’t been favorable for the Pacers, who entered the game down 0-2 and suddenly found themselves down 15 points late in the first.
Despite the poor start, the Pacers still managed to close the gap to within eight to end the quarter even as Luke Kennard continued to torture them, scoring 14 in the first. Indiana’s second unit helped keep them within 10 from that point, but big minutes from Langston Galloway early in the second kept the Pacers from ever really threatening.
The game turned on a dime with 4:31 remaining in the second quarter when Andre Drummond picked up his third foul. The Pacers, led by T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogon scored the next 14 points to take a 57-53 lead into the half. The Pacers held Detroit to just 18 second quarter points, a huge improvement after allowing 35 in the first.
The avalanche continued into the third quarter, with the Pacers running out to a 15-2 start to push their lead to 17. The Pistons also entered with a long injury list, but unlike the Pacers, they weren’t able to overcome Drummond’s foul trouble in addition to Kennard suddenly not scoring big. So it was no real surprise that Detroit was able to work themselves back into contention when Kennard started again hitting shots, capping a quick 7-0 run.
Kennard wasn’t the only Pistons player to hit three after three. Suddenly, a 13-point advantage to start the fourth was whittled down to eight on the back of four three pointers between Galloway and Tony Snell. In that stretch, T.J. McConnell took it upon himself to ensure those threes weren’t going to bury the Pacers, scoring on four straight possessions to salvage Indiana’s double figure lead.
With the lead at 11, Warren was called for a flagrant foul after his off hand rose to hit Galloway on the head. Galloway hit both free throws and Snell would hit his third three of the night to suddenly bring the game to within six at 108-102. Both teams traded misses on the next two possessions and Brogdon would make it three straight misses after a layup went awry, but Sabonis would be in position with the putback, effectively sinking the dagger with a minute remaining.
The Pacers wrapped up the 112-106 win, jumping above .500 for the first time this season, winning their fifth in six games. Like the first two meetings, the deciding factor in the game wasn’t so much in how the starters did, but in how the bench performed. With both teams banged up, it was a big opportunity for the Pacers to win on their depth, outscoring the Detroit bench 51-28.
McConnell led the way with a season high 17 points and nine assists. Eight of those nine went to bench players, three of those finding Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott for threes. McDermott again reached double figures, scoring 14 points on 6-11 shooting with a pair of threes while Holiday scored 16 points. Holiday had a big second half, scoring eight in the third as Detroit shot their way back into the game. He also had three blocks in that quarter as part of his four on the night.
McConnell’s three assists to three pointers was big as the Pacers were just 4-15 for the game from beyond the arc. The 15 attempts were the fewest in the league this season, and the inability to hit the ones they did take allowed Detroit to keep pace as they hit 13, including four players with multiple makes. The 9-0 gap in three pointers made between the starting units required a big night from the second unit, especially as both Brogdon and Aaron Holiday struggled to score, combining for just 17.
Brogdon in particular was off tonight, scoring 11 with two assists and three turnovers. He finished 4-11 from the floor and didn’t appear to have much of a scoring touch at any part of the floor, though his early free throw trips did result in a 3-3 night, helping the Pacers to top Detroit 22-15 in the free throw advantage, which again, came in handy given the disparity Indiana faced against the three pointer.
With injuries continuing to ravage Indiana’s interior depth, the play and availability of Sabonis can’t be understated. Sabonis finished with a 17 point, 14 rebound double double, but also had six assists to five different Pacers. While his matchup with Drummond was far from perfect, he was able to draw two of his first half fouls, including the third that took him out of the game, allowing the Pacers to take the lead for good.
In building their 17-point advantage in the third, Warren scored nine of 11 early in the third, getting there with a pair of offensive rebounds. He also came up with a steal just halfway past the fourth that kept Detroit from cutting into eight point lead. JaKarr Sampson had another solid game, scoring 10 on 4-5 shooting, six of those coming in the first half with Indiana staging their comeback in the second quarter.
The Pacers overcame their lack of three point shooting by outscoring Detroit 58-40 in the paint. They had 20 fast break points and 22 off turnovers. The easier scoring opportunities helped them to shoot over 51% for the game, all of which helping to keep them just out of reach of the Pistons for the second half.
With the win, the Pacers improve to 5-4 on the year and 4-1 at home. They were also able to keep pace in the season series with Detroit with the season series wrapping up in just under a month on December 6. In the meantime, the Pacers will hit the road for a game when they face the Orlando Magic on Sunday.