The oasis game in the Indiana Pacers’ desert schedule ended with a much needed win, but there remained a growing number of concerns after allowing the New York Knicks to climb back into and hang around into the final minute of the game.
This was a lingering issue for the Pacers during the best stretches of the game, making the worst stretches a real adventure. While it seemed part of Indiana’s second half collapse to Philadelphia had some elements of bad luck, tonight’s continued struggle to hit open looks didn’t do much to help the hope of it being an aberration.
Indiana’s inability to capitalize on the game was evident early, when trailing 20-19, they failed to score from the field for almost three and a half minutes. The second unit did well to bring some life to the offense, but New York kept pace, keeping the Pacers from building on the brief leads they had early in the second quarter.
The Knicks were the first team to break the game into double figures, responding to a 37-36 Pacers lead with an 11-0 run, including hitting three straight threes. It was a bit of an odd situation the Pacers found themselves in as the Knicks seemed to be getting a lot to go their way, the three point shooting being just one of them, shooting 7-12 from deep in the first half.
That is to say it’s not as if the Pacers were a complete no-show in terms of effort. However, they simply weren’t bringing the fight to the level they needed to in order to prevent the Knicks from building a double figure lead. Indiana’s effort did turn into a positive as a response to the 11-0 run, outscoring New York 16-2 over the next four minutes, heading into the locker room up 55-52.
In the first half, the Pacers were just 2-13 from three point range themselves, but opened the second half on a tear, hitting three of four to build a double figure lead of their own. Just as it appeared the Pacers had figured things out, a Dennis Smith Jr. three and a Wesley Matthews turnover suddenly led to seven straight Knicks points, again making it a fight.
Indiana pushed the lead to 15 by the final seconds of the third, but Emmanuel Mudiay did something he and New York were adept to all night; killing the Pacers on end of quarter buckets. The Knicks were a perfect 3-3 for eight points in the first three quarters, which again played into Indiana’s inability to put a stamp on the game.
The Pacers would again push the lead out in the fourth quarter after allowing the Knicks to play within single digits, jumping up 97-81 with 7:14 left. The question of “will they or won’t they close this out with a purpose” tease suddenly took a hard turn in the wrong direction when their offense went up in smokes in a similar fashion to the Philadelphia loss, featuring miss after miss after miss.
The Knicks made it a four point game with 41 seconds left, closing the gap on a 14-2 run in which the Pacers shot 1-12 from the floor including 10 straight misses, plus a tidy 0-2 at the line during the run. Darren Collison finally broke the stretch with a pullup jumper (nothing too easy), icing the game on free throws after Mudiay cut the six point point lead in half with his third three of the night.
A contested win in the NBA isn’t always a bad sign even against bad teams. The oft-mentioned Philadelphia 76ers needed big plays late to close out Cleveland at home, but it does become concerning when some of the same struggles that doomed you against both Philly and Milwaukee were prevalent in this one, bad luck or not.
The Pacers finished the game shooting just 43.5% from the field and a less than ideal 8-28 from three point range. About the only thing they did well tonight in terms of shooting was in free throws, but even it was a problem when it came to Indiana’s bigs. The Pacers shot 16-17 when anyone not named Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis took trips to the line, with them combining for 5-12, five of those misses coming from Turner, all seeming to come at junctures when Indiana needed some comfort points against a Knicks comeback.
Turner finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, but was just 5-15 from the floor, going 0-4 from the free throw line extended that he usually does well hitting. Sabonis meanwhile was just 4-12 on the night, finishing with 10 points and seven rebounds. The second unit provided some solid minutes in the first half, but again faded in the second half with just eight points as a unit after the break.
The curious absence of Tyreke Evans does limit the high end potential of the bench despite his up and down play this season, but so too does Nate McMillan’s decision to tighten the rotation, limiting T.J. Leaf and Aaron Holiday to just 10 first half minutes. They had four points on 2-3 shooting, including a trademark Leaf putback.
The heavier load on the starters got all five to double figures, led by Bojan Bogdanovic with 24 points. Bogdanovic was as effective a shooter as the Pacers had, joining Doug McDermott as the only player to shoot over 50% on the night, also doing what McDermott couldn’t do tonight; hit his threes. Bogdanovic had three of Indiana’s eight makes with Thaddeus Young and Turner each hitting a pair.
Indiana was able to weather a 46% night from three from the Knicks thanks to their ability to create turnovers, forcing the Knicks into 20, 12 of which coming on steals. That allowed Indiana to outscore the Knicks 17-7 off of those turnovers. Young and Collison had three steals each, but it was Collison’s that turned into points for the Pacers, resulting in six.
The Pacers move to 43-25, allowing them to keep pace with Philadelphia for third while taking a two game lead over Boston for fourth. That’s all well and good from a standings perspective, but Indiana will need to figure out their offense quickly if both scenarios look to stay true as they get ready to play the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time this season on Thursday.
It will be the final home game before Indiana head’s out West for a brutal four game trip as part of six of seven away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The one home game will come against another elite Western opponent in Denver, setting up a make-or-break stretch for the Pacers in their quest for home court in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.