After a frustrating week of offensive woes that led the Indiana Pacers to an 0-4 West Coast road trip, they returned home to see it all swing in the other direction against the Denver Nuggets. The Pacers had their 8th best shooting game of the season, helping to propel them to their second biggest win of the year, blowing out the road weary Nuggets.
Indiana trailed only briefly in this one about halfway through the first quarter, but no lead in the first half felt big enough even after Bojan Bogdanovic put the Pacers up 52-35 with 2:53 remaining in the second quarter. Similar to the loss in Denver, the Nuggets closed the half strong with 11 points, but this time, the Pacers did not slip into a scoring drought, going back and forth to close the half, finishing on a wild inbounds pass from Bogdanovic to Wesley Matthews.
The Pacers got to 62 first half points largely behind the play of Bogdanovic and Myles Turner. Bogdanovic was cooking the entire half, making his first 10 shots and scoring 24 points. With the Pacers continuing to struggle from three point range despite the ability to score, Bogdanovic pulled them out of the fire with four threes in the half. Turner meanwhile had 10 points in the first quarter, setting the tone early with a coast-to-coast dunk as part of his 17 point, 11 rebound double double.
Denver continued to push out of the half, bringing the game to within 11, but again, it was Bogdanovic that helped give the Pacers some much needed scoring to keep the game out of reach for the Nuggets. Bogdanovic had nine more in the quarter, including seven of nine after Denver had cut it to 11.
Matthews got involved from deep, becoming just the second Pacer in the game to make a three, hitting back-to-back as part of a 25-11 run to close the quarter, giving Indiana a 25-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The game ended on an anticlimactic note, but remained exciting thanks to the play of the second unit, who ensured there would be no comeback attempt from the Nuggets.
Indiana outscored Denver 32-21 in the fourth, getting 11 points from Aaron Holiday, six from Domantas Sabonis to wrap up his 15 point, 13 rebound double double, and plenty of activity from Tyreke Evans, who continues to trend in a positive direction after missing games prior to the road trip.
The ability to close out the win was big for the Pacers because it allowed Nate McMillan to tiptoe the line between “playing for home court” and “load management.” After discussing load management as a possibility, he appeared willing to go all in prior to tonight’s game, and the blowout allowed him to rest his starters for the fourth, sans Thaddeus Young for a couple of minutes, something he has not done on the year.
The return home appeared to also invigorate the Pacers, who showed up and had a blast in front of a sellout crowd, fueled by a 35-point night from Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic not only scored at will, hitting a season high five threes, but he also had three assists, just the 18th time this year he’s reached that number.
It was part of a night when the Pacers as a team had 34 assists, pushing them to 56% shooting. They also avoided “yeah, but” mistakes, committing just 11 turnovers and shooting over 80% from the free throw line. Denver increasingly looked gassed, no doubt a biproduct of playing three games in four nights at the end of a four game road trip themselves, but Indiana took it to Denver to ensure there would be no comeback.
The Pacers had 25 points off turnovers and just blitzed the Nuggets in transition, outscoring them 29-11 in fast break points, all while amassing 72 points in the paint. Indiana entered playing the worst offense in the league, having gone nine straight games under 110 points (the fifth longest streak in the league this season). This was a real sigh of relief, not only on offense, but also on defense, holding Denver to 35.5% shooting.
Indiana not only got a much needed win in a truly difficult stretch, but took advantage of their situation by gaining a game on both Philadelphia and Boston, who had late losses last night. The third seed remains 2.5 games out of reach, but it does give Indiana a temporary 1.5 game advantage over Boston for fourth.
That lead will be either one or two after tonight pending Boston’s outcome against San Antonio at home, but gives them just enough breathing room as the Pacers will have to head back out on the road for a Wednesday night showdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder.