The weight of the road trip came bearing down on the Indiana Pacers in the second half against the New York Knicks, but though the shots quit falling, the Pacers scrapped their way to a win on a missed Julius Randle free throw to end the road trip 3-2. Indiana entered in one of the most “schedule loss” games of the year: second night of a back-to-back, third game in four night, both on the last night of a five-game road trip.
However, their offensive workload in the first half managed to carry them through to the end. At the break, the Pacers had 66 points, shooting nearly 60% in the process. Unfortunately, the lead was just six, which left a wide open door for a energized Knicks team. New York took advantage in the third, outscoring the Pacers 18-10 across the first eight minutes of the quarter.
After struggling for much of the third, the second unit opened up the offense, outscoring the Knicks 13-3 behind five quarter ending points from Doug McDermott. Three of Indiana’s four field goals to close the quarter were set up by T.J. McConnell, who controlled the offense with 11 assists for the game.
Four of the second unit’s five three pointers were assisted on by McConnell, the only one that wasn’t was McDermott’s third three of the night, which kicked off the fourth quarter, giving the Pacers a 92-81 lead. To that point, the Pacers had won all three quarters, but by margins of five, one, and two, needed the extra punch from McDermott to make it a double figure game.
Unfortunately, sloppy play from the Pacers cropped up, leading to three consecutive turnovers, allowing the Knicks to score the next four. McConnell found Domantas Sabonis for a dunk to temporarily stop the bleeding, but Elfrid Payton scored or assisted on the next seven, bringing the game to 94-92 with eight minutes remaining.
After Randle tied the game at 98-98 a couple minutes later, Aaron Holiday responded with a big three pointer to push Indiana back into the lead. After forcing a stop, the Pacers returned with a Jeremy Lamb and-one to double the lead to six.
That would prove to be the final points of the night for the Pacers, who were forced to nurse a four point lead across the last five minutes after Mitchell Robinson responded with a dunk on the other end. The Pacers did just that, though getting there proved among the most difficult roads possible.
The most difficult possession of that road came after a pair of empty possessions by the Pacers. With just over three and a half minutes left, Marcus Morris missed a jumper, setting up Randle for an offensive rebound. It was the first of four offensive rebounds for the Knicks, finally ending when Sabonis dove on the floor to change hands.
The score stayed locked in at 104-100 for another two minutes when Morris scored to bring the game to within two with 1:39 remaining. Indiana missed again, setting up yet another possession in which the Knicks got multiple cracks at tying the game. This time, Myles Turner blocked both follow-ups before the Pacers finally got the ball back.
Following two more empty possessions, Indiana again had to come up defensively with just two seconds left on the clock. Turner again stepped up with the crucial block on Robinson, but Randle was fouled by Holiday on the follow-up, sending him to the line with a chance to tie with 0.1 seconds in the game.
Randle hit the first free throw, but missed the second, giving the Pacers the 104-103 win. It proved to be not only an improbable escape for the Pacers, but also saved them having to play an overtime game after having missed their last eight shots and going scoreless for 5:17. Perhaps they manage to pull it out, but it proved somewhat poetic that the Pacers could still close out a win entirely with their defense and entirely with what felt like the last of their energy.
The Pacers were again led by T.J. Warren on the offensive end, who finished with 25 points on 10-19 shooting. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, he went scoreless in the final period, the lone quarter in which Indiana did not win (losing 22-15). Sabonis finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, willing the Pacers late with hustle plays despite playing the entire fourth quarter.
Without Malcolm Brogdon due to a pinky injury, A. Holiday stepped back into the starting lineup, scoring 12 points with a pair of threes. With McConnell’s playmaking being what it was tonight with 11 assists (and a 3-3 shooting night), inserting Holiday back in the game was an interesting move by Nate McMillan, one that immediately paid off after Holiday hit the go-ahead three pointer in the fourth.
The defensive stands in the fourth quarter were aided in large part by Turner, who finished with five blocks in the game, four after coming into the game with six minutes left in the fourth. Indiana has struggled to come up with possession after blocks in these last two games, but Turner refused to let that allow the Knicks to score, coming up with an absolutely monstrous four minute stretch defensively to close the game.
Off the bench, McDermott led the way with 16 points, all but one of his makes coming from McConnell. The one that didn’t came from Justin Holiday, who had six points himself on a pair of threes, the two combining for 5-8 from three point range, a level of consistency much needed to keep a 46-30 bench deficit from being any larger than it was.
For the game, the Pacers were outrebounded by 10, all 10 coming on the offensive glass. The Knicks entered as the league’s best offensive rebounding team, but the Pacers did well to hold them to just nine points off of those rebounds. The Pacers also found consistency in scoring off of turnovers, edging the Knicks 19-18, but doing so despite losing the turnover battle 17-11.
These may not be particularly flashy or encouraging numbers, but with this game being of the survive-and-advance variety, the Pacers were able to succeed in areas where they were at a sizable disadvantage. From here, they’ll return home for a pair of tough games, starting with the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.