Despite having eight days off for the All-Star Break, the Indiana Pacers apparently felt the need to ease back into the swing of things, leading them to get run out of the gym by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first half. The path to one of their worst showings of the season was on display from the opening possession.
Myles Turner was a late scratch after suffering a hip injury during practice on Wednesday (he is day-to-day), giving Kyle O’Quinn his first start of the year. After winning the tip, he would turn the ball over out of bounds. It was the first of four straight possessions that was either a turnover or a blocked shot at the rim, allowing the Pelicans to jump ahead 5-0 and they would not look back.
Indiana fell behind by double figures halfway through the quarter, surrendering everything inside and out to the Pelicans. New Orleans extended their lead to as many as 15 in the first, dropping 35 on the Pacers, who by the end of the quarter were thankful to just be down by 11.
The flow of the game in the first half felt glacial. There were quite a few fouls, but the ease in which the Pelicans scored made each glance at the clock feel like an eternity. Indiana has allowed just 98.8 points per game to opponents at home this season, so to see New Orleans reach 50 points in just over 16 minutes was something of a shock.
The Pelicans shot over 60% through much of the first half, getting whatever they wanted inside by taking advantage of the lack of rim protection without Turner healthy, but also shooting at an exceptionally high clip from deep. They hit eight of their first 13 threes, including three from Julius Randle.
Somehow through this, the Pacers still cobbled together just enough offense to keep the game from getting wildly out of hand, bringing the deficit as close as 11 in the second quarter. It sat at 12 with three minutes left in the half, when it suddenly did get out of hand on a 10-2 run by New Orleans, six of those points coming at the free throw line, extending their lead to 20 at 71-51.
Darren Collison responded on the other end to bring it to 18. A turnover allowed Collison to get to the line, making it a 16-point game. Then something wonderful happened: the Pelicans finally missed some shots. Back-to-back misses by New Orleans set up the Pacers for the final shot of the half. They retained possession after their own miss, Wesley Matthews inbounded the ball to Thaddeus Young, who flipped it back to Matthews, stepping into a big time corner three to close the half.
That three felt like a sea change. The Pacers put forth one of their worst halves of the year, but still went into the locker room down just 13 points. Out of the break, however, that momentum was dangerously short lived. Indiana again stumbled early, sending the Pelicans to the line multiple times in the opening minute, allowing them to score three quick points.
Davis stood at the line for his third and fourth attempts of the quarter after getting fouled on an offensive rebound. He had a chance to push the lead back to 18, but whether or not he was swayed by Turner’s Block taunting him with a “Your team hates you” chant, Davis would miss both attempts, sending Young and the Pacers the other direction for an and-one to again make it a 13-point deficit.
At that point, it became Wesley Matthews’s world. The sharpshooter hit back-to-back threes to finally make it a single digit game. Collison and Young found each other for jumpers to cut it to five, then Matthews again sliced into the lead with two more threes. Down two, Matthews was fouled on a three point attempt, hitting all three to push Indiana into the lead for the first time all night at 80-79.
The lead proved short-lived, however, as the Pelicans quickly responded with a 9-1 run, putting them back up by seven as Matthews left with a bloody nose. After falling behind again, the Pacers got a timely boost from Doug McDermott, scoring or assisting on nine straight points to bring them back within two, finding Domantas Sabonis for the assists.
Tyreke Evans was next in line in a masterful third quarter display, closing the period with a flurry of active defense, passing, and shot-making. He broke a 94-94 tie in the final seconds of the third with a three of his own.
Now it's Tyreke's turn with the momentum pic.twitter.com/3XWJS6KIhb— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 23, 2019
The story of the game changed in that third quarter, the Pacers winning 39-23. In it, the difference was three point shooting. Indiana was just 6-20 in the first half, but went 6-7 in the third. New Orleans meanwhile came crashing back down after a big first half themselves, missing on all seven of their attempts.
Indiana didn’t let the momentum slip away from them heading into the fourth, outscoring the Pelicans 15-4 to open the final quarter, turning a 20-point deficit into a 14-point advantage. That run featured six more points from Evans, while the Indiana defense smothered the Pelicans, forcing them to miss their first four shots, including big stands from Evans and T.J. Leaf.
New Orleans managed to slice the lead in half, but O’Quinn would help seal the victory by forcing a turnover on Elfrid Payton, hitting much needed free throws after being fouled. It proved enough as the Pacers wrapped up an impressive 126-111 victory. After allowing 71 in the first half, they held New Orleans to just 40 second half points while almost returning the favor on the offensive end, scoring 68.
After being one of the league’s best comeback stories last season, tonight marked the first time all season Indiana got a win after trailing by 20 points. It took a total team effort to make happen. Everyone in the 10-man rotation played a part, from Matthews’s game high 24 points on six threes or Leaf’s key defensive plays early in the fourth despite scoring zero.
Five of those double figure scorers had 15 or more, including 20 from Bogdanovic and 16 from Young in the starting lineup. Collison reached double figures with 10, but made his impact in the passing game, dishing 12 assists to just one turnover. Off the bench, Sabonis led the way with 18 points and 13 rebounds, but Evans was the charge for the second unit, scoring 17 points with two steals and two blocks.
The Pacers improve to 39-20 with the win, wrapping up their home stand 5-1 and keeping a game edge on Philadelphia for 3rd in the East. Indiana will hit the road for three straight, starting tomorrow night when they face the Washington Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back.