The Indiana Pacers picked up their 20th win of the season tonight, topping the Sacramento Kings at home. Indiana won 119-105, a final that was both indicative and not indicative of the game as a whole. Though they led by 20 late in the fourth, it never really felt like they led by that much and yet the 14-point finish didn’t feel like it told the full story either.
Some of that might stem from the lack of defensive consistency on both sides, highlighted early when over the course of four minutes in the first quarter, there was one total stop in the game. That turned a 5-4 Indiana advantage into a 20-18 one after a deep three from Sacramento’s Nemanja Bjelica.
It was the first of three threes from Sacramento over the next two and a half minutes, when Cory Joseph and Justin James pushed the Kings on top 26-22, ultimately pushing their lead to six when Indiana’s second unit entered the game. That’s when T.J. McConnell flipped the script, scoring eight points to end the first, drawing the Pacers to within two at 32-30.
In the second quarter, McConnell was joined by Doug McDermott on the scoreboard, his seven points in the opening four minutes pushing Indiana into the lead and then up by five. Justin Holiday had five himself to help Indiana back into the lead, but their inability to get stops that weren’t blocks or steals allowed the Kings to keep the game well within striking distance.
The Pacers were finally able to string together some stops for the first time all night nearing the midway point of the second quarter, using a 12-2 run to make it a double figure advantage. T.J. Warren scored six straight points in the run, but even as Aaron Holiday pushed the lead to 14, the Kings slowly chipped away thanks to the dominating play of Richaun Holmes, scoring 10 straight Sacramento points.
Buddy Hield cut the lead to five on his first three, but the Pacers managed to close strong, getting a pair of threes from A. Holiday and Malcolm Brogdon to again make it a double figure advantage at the break. To open the third, Myles Turner scored eight in the first three and a half minutes to make it an 18-point game and the Pacers used to a 7-0 run to push the advantage to 22 later in the quarter.
The game’s ebb and flow swung against the Pacers to close the third, however, as the Kings scored nine unanswered in the final 1:12 of the quarter, including back-to-back threes from James, one of which being a calculated half-court heave to make it a 92-79 game. Sacramento cut the game to 11, but back-to-back threes from McDermott and J. Holiday made it a 17-point game again, helping the Pacers to close out the win.
One of the reasons this was such an odd game in terms of flow was due to rebounding. The Kings cleaned up on the offensive glass, pulling in 13 offensive boards, outscoring Indiana 20-5 off of those misses. Fortunately for the Pacers, their own offense ensured that they weren’t going to allow that to be a difference in the game.
Indiana finished at 52.3% shooting for the game, but were closer to 60% in the first half, dishing 21 first half assists as part of 34 for the night. The Pacers worked the occasional Sacramento zone with precision, shooting 45% from three point range, but also passing with a purpose, committing only nine turnovers.
Seven double figure scorers helped Indiana, led by Warren with 23. Warren, along with A. Holiday, each hit three threes on the night, going 6-7 combined. Indiana’s bigs were well in control all night as well, both Turner and Domantas Sabonis combining for 32 points and four blocks. Turner had 17 points on 5-9 shooting, leading the team at the free throw line, going 6-6.
Off the bench, the game was shifted in Indiana’s favor thanks largely to McConnell, who had 15 points on 7-8 shooting, also hitting a three for good measure. McConnell had eight assists to four different players, finding both McDermott and J. Holiday for their first threes of the night. McDermott had 13 and six rebounds, going 3-7 from deep. McDermott’s shooting in rhythm continues to be a blessing, as has been the timely shotmaking of Holiday, who had eight.
Edmond Sumner returned to the court tonight due to the injury of Jeremy Lamb. The lack of flow after missing so much time was obvious, his decision making was a bit iffy with a late goaltending goal in the first quarter, but he did have three assists. Goga Bitadze had four points in six minutes, hitting both of his shots out beyond the free throw line.
The Pacers finally move out of the sixth spot with the win, stepping a spot up to fifth, surpassing Philadelphia who fell at home tonight. The Pacers are also currently just a half game out of the two spot, showing how tight the competition is atop the East right now. Being in fifth may not last long however, as the Pacers hit the road for a challenging game against the league’s best Milwaukee Bucks.
Though the Pacers were blown out by Milwaukee at home, a healthy-ish roster (pending Lamb) will give Indiana a better idea of where they stand against a top-tier team on the road, after having topped the league-best Lakers on Tuesday. Halfway through a 12-game stretch in which the Pacers face eight winning teams, they’ve started well, going 5-1.