Offense came easy all night for the Indiana Pacers, so it was only fitting they would need to find other ways to succeed late in order to come away with a back-to-back win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. A defensive stop, a jump ball, and an inbounds pass all played a part in the final five seconds after Indiana scored just 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Unlike Wednesday night’s game against the same Timberwolves, the Pacers didn’t have to play from behind too often. Similar to that game, however, they were unable to put Minnesota too far in the rearview when they were up. Also unlike Wednesday’s game, the Pacers now had to contend with Karl-Anthony Towns, whose return paid immediate dividends for the Wolves.
Towns scored the first nine of the game for Minnesota, keeping the Pacers from extending their quick start to double figures. Up 18-9, the Pacers surrendered the next seven to players not named Karl-Anthony Towns, allowing the Timberwolves to climb back into the game. The Pacers would push their lead to six at the end of the first, extending that lead to 11 to start the second.
The Timberwolves immediately closed the gap, scoring nine straight on three threes, then tying the game up on two more triples. Andrew Wiggins gave Minnesota their first lead halfway through the quarter, but each time he scored, the Pacers were there to respond. T.J. Warren scored nine points to close the half, helping them to maintain their six-point lead heading into the break.
To start the third, the game went completely bonkers. Indiana and Minnesota traded threes on the first six possessions as Minnesota took it one step further and hit four more from deep to make it an 83-82 game with 7:36 remaining in the third. Fortunately for the Pacers, they were still able to score with ease, helping to minimize the damage of Minnesota’s first 21 points of the half coming on threes.
However, it didn’t ultimately keep the Wolves out of the lead. Towns scored to put them on top, another lead that would be short lived as Jeremy Lamb responded. Warren was big again in the quarter, scoring 15, putting Indiana up by five in the later stages of the quarter. Minnesota continued to respond, however, making a three point game with 35 seconds left when Aaron Holiday closed the quarter with a three of his own to somehow allow Indiana to escape with a 32-32 quarter tie.
Holiday, paired with Doug McDermott scored the first eight of the quarter to put the Pacers up 107-96, but Minnesota again stormed back, scoring seven straight to make it a four point game. From there, the Pacers would struggle to manufacture points, making just two shots over the next four minutes. Their defense did tighten up, forcing a pair of turnovers to edge their lead to seven at 114-107 with 3:28 remaining.
Minnesota’s three point shooting had cooled off considerably after the hot start to the third, but Robert Covington drilled one to kickstart a crucial 7-0 run that tied the game at 114-114. After a Lamb miss, the Pacers came up with a huge stop by forcing Towns out of bounds on a made three.
With the ball and a chance to go up, Malcolm Brogdon had the ball swiped by Shabazz Napier, then Warren turned it over after forcing a Wiggins miss. Wiggins then stepped out of bounds, giving the Pacers the ball back with 31.3 seconds left, completing a stretch of four turnovers in five possessions.
Needing a basket, Brogdon got a screen from Sabonis and then calmly stepped into a go-ahead floater with 18 seconds left.
On the other end, Turner held up defensively, forcing a miss from Napier at the rim. Warren rebounded the ball, but was whistled for a jump ball before Indiana could get a timeout with five seconds on the clock. Warren eyed Lamb, winning the jump as a breakaway Lamb was fouled with 1.1 on the clock.
It was the first foul under two minutes for the Timberwolves, setting up a crucial inbounds pass. Justin Holiday caught Covington turned away, passing the inbounds off of him, securing the 116-114 for the Pacers.
The Pacers completed the back-to-back sweep over Minnesota with the win, their fourth straight overall. Though they shot over 60% for most of the night, the Pacers still ended up at 56.1% for the game, their second best shooting percentage of the season. That percentage didn’t end up being just for show given their -9 deficit in three pointers made.
Minnesota hit 17 from deep and nearly played the Pacers to a draw in the paint, a 44-42 advantage for Indiana. Part of that was due to forgettable nights offensively from both Domantas Sabonis and Turner, saddled with foul trouble all night. Combined they had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Even with nine fouls between them however, they stood up defensively, particularly Turner, who had three blocks and a number of key stops in the fourth quarter.
They didn’t necessarily need their scoring output tonight though, especially with Warren thriving in the easy basket play of the game, scoring 28 points to lead all scorers. Warren shot 11-18, including 3-4 from deep, picking up a block and a steal for good measure. His head’s up play on the jump ball (which could’ve easily been a timeout) was one of three game-winning plays in the final minute.
Lamb also played well tonight, scoring 18 points on 7-13 shooting. While he came up empty from deep (0-4), he was in a real zone inside the arc, showcasing the ease in which he can score. It helped overcome a lack of offensive production up front, as well as a 12-point night from Brogdon. Brogdon did hit the game winner though, combining well with a game high 10 assists.
The Pacers played 10 deep, getting production throughout their lineup tonight. Though the second unit struggled to get stops early in the second, they again were able to score at a rate that kept Minnesota from ever truly taking advantage of their own offensive success. Both McDermott and A. Holiday had 13 points, going a combined 11-18 from the floor.
Holiday in particular was much more poised tonight than on Wednesday when he went scoreless from the floor, taking up more point guard duties compared to T.J. McConnell, who had zero assists for just the second time this season. He did score eight, however. J. Holiday had just three points, but was in and around a number of plays, getting a big fourth quarter block on Jarrett Culver and then, of course, inbounding the ball to himself for the win.
Goga Bitadze had five points in 10 minutes of action tonight, continuing to be something of a pendulum with whether he makes a positive play on any given possession, putting in easy buckets around the rim and contesting shots, but also passing up good looks and disappearing completely on rim protection duties.
Before Wednesday night, the Pacers were entering a seven game stretch in which they were playing six on the road, all against Western Conference opponents. A 4-3 record in that stretch should’ve been the ideal outcome, so to get off to a 2-0 start before heading out West for five straight is a real positive.
The Pacers will start their West Coast swing on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, who lit up the Pacers 124-116 on January 2. Following that will be a Monday matchup against Utah, setting up an absolutely brutal back-to-back to start this seven day road trip.