The Indiana Pacers tacked on another loss in the “disappointing” column against the Denver Nuggets, watching an 18-point lead turn into a game-winning layup for Paul Millsap and the Nuggets. Things went south for the Pacers late in the first half. After scoring 58 points through 21 minutes and leading by 16, they allowed four quick points on second-chance opportunities, giving the Nuggets enough life to close the half on a 15-2 run.
The Pacers went 0-2 from the field to close the half, but had two costly turnovers as well. Both issues persisted into the third as Indiana missed eight of their first nine shots and gave up the ball three times in the first six minutes, allowing Denver to push into the lead and make it a two-possession game. Fortunately for the Pacers, they were able to remain in the game in large part due to Denver’s inability to capitalize.
Ending the third, the Pacers were just 5-20 from the floor, but kept the game within striking distance due to their ability to live at the free throw line. The shooting didn’t improve in the fourth, but they managed to work their way to the line with precision, getting 13 of their 25 fourth quarter points from the line.
Unfortunately, the trips were met with costly misses as well. Indiana’s offense didn’t even show up in the fourth, as they fell behind by 11 points with four minutes to go. That ability to get the line, coupled with Nikola Jokic being tossed on a double technical foul allowed the Pacers to cut the lead to just three on six made free throws.
They continued to chip away at the line, getting their only field goal in the final 4:39 on an and-one by Myles Turner. Turner again got to the line down just one in the final 30 seconds, but was only able to tie the game on a split trip. That set up Denver to run down the clock, giving the ball to Millsap, who ran it in for a contested layup.
There was still seven seconds for the Pacers, running a Bojan Bogdanovic iso play. Bogdanovic pulled up for a lightly contested three that went long and then over the backboard to seal the 102-100 loss, a perfect encapsulation of the second half as a whole. The Pacers were 0-10 from three point range in the second half, giving them the smallest of margin for errors.
That razor thin margin was then drawn over on four missed free throws in the fourth alone. On the night, the Pacers were 26-37 from the line, another frustratingly contagious night of costly misses as six of the seven Pacers to make a trip to the line missed at least one. Only Bogdanovic at 6-6 made all of his attempts, but he paired it inauspiciously with just his seventh game of the year in not making a three.
Losses like this are typically heartbreakers, but due to the inability to score points, it felt like a minior miracle the Pacers were even in a position late to win the game. It’s easy to look at any number of plays as “the one” that could’ve put them over the hump, the final play being one of them. Bogdanovic could have given up the shot to Wesley Matthews, who had gotten open, but it can easily go the other way as well after Jokic torched Indiana inside for 16 of his 26 in the first quarter.
Thaddeus Young led the way for the Pacers with 18 points and 10 rebounds, leading five double figure scorers. Darren Collison seemed like the best go-to all night, feasting on midrange buckets off of mismatches, scoring 17. Tyreke Evans returned to action tonight, offering some positives early, and picking up a pair of hockey assists in an excellent play that had Evans get the ball to Domantas Sabonis in the pick and roll, leading to Sabonis dishing to a wide open Young at the basket.
Ultimately, this was little more than a tough loss to a tough opponent, which would be a bit easier to take when they aren’t happening in the middle of March with home court advantage on the line. The Pacers have to come up on the right side of these games, and they just haven’t done so often enough, dropping to 3-4 since losing Victor Oladipo in games decided by five points or less.
With the loss, the Pacers drop a half game behind Philadelphia and just one game ahead of Boston, putting them in a very difficult position as the West Coast trip continues on Monday. After dropping their eighth straight in Denver, the Pacers will be tasked with having to snap an even longer losing streak in Portland, where they’ve lost nine straight to the Trail Blazers.