Going from bad to worse, the Indiana Pacers closed out their three game road trip with a frustrating and disappointing loss to the Dallas Mavericks, their second straight overall. The Pacers never really found their footing in this game, but the same was true of Dallas through the first three quarters.
The Mavericks led 79-78 heading into the fourth quarter, a single point separating the teams in each of the first three. The back-and-forth getting there ran like clockwork: one team would go on a run, build a two or three possession lead only to see the other quickly close the gap and take a lead of their own.
The pace of the game was exciting and no one was getting hurt, but with Dallas leading 85-83 two minutes into the fourth, things changed. The Pacers turned the ball over on two of their next three possessions, but kept the deficit at two with stops. That ended when Dirk Nowitzki set out to obliterate the game flow, hitting his second three of the quarter to make it a five point game.
The Pacers continued to miss from the field, but crawled back to within one on free throws, then wasting two more opportunities to take the lead on missed baseline jumpers. Tim Hardaway Jr. hit a three of his own and Bojan Bogdanovic drew a technical foul after getting mauled at the rim, a festering resentment for what he had felt was three straight possessions where there could’ve been something in favor of the Pacers.
Despite all of this, Indiana hung tough even after surrendering back-to-back threes from Maxi Kleber, they were down four with the ball. Bogdanovic pulled up for a jumper, hitting the shot, only to discover the officials called him for a questionable travel. Luka Doncic would make it a seven point game on the following possession, he and Jalen Brunson hitting a couple more threes to just ensure the dagger was dug as deep as possible.
By the time the dust settled, the Mavericks had hit eight threes in the fourth quarter, doubling their total for the game. To make it even worse for the Pacers, Dallas’s final seven field goals were threes and they had just nine total makes in the quarter. The Pacers meanwhile didn’t attempt a three until the final four minutes of the fourth.
That’s not to suggest more attempts would equal more makes, but it was one of the more egregious showcases in terms of how Indiana’s mid-range philosophy can have a difficult time keeping up when opponents light it up from distance. In losing to Detroit, the Pacers allowed 18 threes, the 3rd best performance of the year for the Pistons. Tonight, Dallas finished with 16, their 5th best.
The Pacers are ill-equipped to keep pace when opponents do that, but they actually did pile up the attempts with the Mavs through three quarters. Wesley Matthews would lead the way for Indiana in threes on 4-10 shooting, his second double digit attempt game as a Pacer, the only other player to do so this season outside of Victor Oladipo.
In a quantity over quality league, the Pacers’ selection looks pretty good when opponents shoot under 30% as they had leading into these last three games, but it gets ugly really quickly when the pendulum swings the other direction. Four of the five Dallas starters hit three more threes, all on six attempts or more while Bogdanovic and Myles Turner had just four attempts each.
Beyond the three point shooting, Dallas also outplayed the Pacers in the all-important “total team effort” category, getting excellent contributions from all nine of their rotation players. It didn’t matter how unknown or washed up the Maverick was, it was their kind of night. The Pacers as well did have all 10 of their rotation players score, but things got a little shakier in regards to the point guard and center positions.
Without Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers did the one thing they could ill-afford to do; lose Turner and Kyle O’Quinn to quick foul trouble. Going to Thaddeus Young at the five did work in Indiana’s favor for the most part, especially given a positive first half from T.J. Leaf, who led the bench with nine points and seven rebounds.
Unfortunately, there was no real go-to with the second unit with Sabonis absent. Tyreke Evans was also out tonight, forcing a heavier usage from Cory Joseph. Coupled with a weak showing from Darren Collison, it becomes that much more surprising that Aaron Holiday was limited to just three minutes tonight, hitting a three to close the first quarter.
The Pacers drop to 40-22 on the season, allowing Philadelphia to sit idle and climb to within a half a game for third. Boston meanwhile dropped their fourth straight game, allowing Indiana to remain three up on them, but the inability to capitalize in these last two road games really stings.
Indiana will be back in action tomorrow night when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota will enter on an overtime loss to Atlanta, averaging 9.6 threes per game in their last 11, giving a slight glimmer of hope that the Pacers might not die at the hand of the three point shot for a third straight game.