For an idea how the fourth quarter went for the Indiana Pacers against the Orlando Magic, one doesn’t have to look far. In fact, they only have to look at the last two meetings between these teams, where the Pacers suffered a road loss on January 31 and a home loss on March 2.
The common theme? The Pacers once again led after three and once again collapsed in the fourth quarter, resulting in a maddening, avoidable loss once again. The Pacers were never able to really take control of the game, which ultimately led to the collapse. They led 82-73 late in the third on a wild Darren Collison three pointer, only to allow Terrence Ross to return the favor on his own off-kilter attempt.
That brought momentum to the Magic, who closed the third on a 17-9 run, climbing to within two despite Collison’s best effort to keep the Pacers afloat. Once in the fourth, the score went back and forth early, but Indiana was unable to hold onto the lead as Aaron Gordon and Khem Birch pushed the Magic ahead, Ross putting them up nine with 6:50 remaining.
The Pacers found themselves in a comedy of misfortune from that point on, inching within reach multiple times only to have the rug pulled from beneath them on missed fast break opportunities, ticky tack fouls, or bricks on wide open threes. They also missed four free throws in the quarter, both ends from Tyreke Evans and Collison, which would’ve come in handy after Wesley Matthews hit a three to make it a 117-113 game with 20 seconds left.
For the game, the Pacers shot better from the field and outrebounded the Magic by eight, but faltered when it came to capitalizing in transition or off of turnovers. They were outscored 15-9 in fast break points and a staggering 26-16 difference in points off turnovers, committing 15 for the game to Orlando’s seven.
It’s possible the back-to-back played an issue. Orlando came out with much better energy, but it still doesn’t excuse just how poorly things went for the Pacers in the fourth. When the dust settled, the Pacers had lost the quarter 31-24, wrapping up a three game stretch against the Magic in which Orlando outscored the Pacers 103-76, winning all three in games the Pacers led after three in each one.
This game slipping from Indiana’s grasp was made even worse given Boston’s own loss tonight against Brooklyn. The Pacers had an opportunity to get back in control of the fourth seed, but instead stay put in fifth with just five games remaining. A March to forget ended the same way it began with a fourth quarter collapse to Orlando, dropping the Pacers to 4-10, their worst with that many games since January 2011.
It’s possible the Celtics will keep the Pacers chasing the fourth seed through the remainder of the season with their own inconsistency, but Indiana will need to play Pacers basketball if they hope to actually take advantage of it. The schedule will remain tough for Indiana however, with a home and home against the Detroit Pistons beginning at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Monday.