After a strong start, the Indiana Pacers went out with a whimper defensively against the Denver Nuggets, who reached 30 points or more in each of the final three quarters. In the most simplified scouting report ever, the Pacers needed only to hold the Nuggets under 110 points to maximize their chance of winning.
Entering the game, the Nuggets had gone 11-0 when scoring 110 or more in their last 19. When scoring less? They’re 1-7. The inability for the Pacers to tighten up defensively in not only forcing misses, but grabbing rebounds allowed Denver to break the 110-point threshold with ease, scoring 124, the most points the Pacers have allowed all year.
Indiana set the tone early offensively with a 37-point first quarter, quickly building a 14-point advantage thanks to hot shooting from both Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren. The lead wasn’t quite that high in the second quarter, but Indiana led 58-80 with 3:23 remaining in the half. With Nikola Jokic being a nonfactor in the first half due to foul trouble, it was all in Indiana’s favor until it simply wasn’t.
Will Barton and the Nuggets closed the half on a 12-6 run to cut the lead to just two heading into the second half. Once there, Jokic began to make an impact on the game, scoring six straight Denver points. Gary Harris scored the next five to put the Nuggets in the lead for the first time in the game.
Lamb continued to play at a high level, pushing the Pacers back up by four with 4:46, but the Nuggets continued to throw guy after guy at Indiana, now getting extensive contributions from Michael Porter Jr., who would score 10 straight, setting up Monte Morris to finish the quarter with five of his own, putting Denver up four heading into the fourth.
In the fourth, the Pacers would only be able to hang around, but the inability to get stops kept them from ever challenging on the other end. With Indiana down four with 7:49 in the game, the Nuggets ran off nine straight scoring possessions, doubling that advantage to eight to hold onto the win.
Rebounding continues to be a lethal problem for the Pacers, getting beaten on the glass 47-34, allowing 15 offensive rebounds. While rebounding was a problem from the outset, they didn’t allow the Nuggets to really hammer them home on second chance points until the final quarter. The Pacers allowed 10 second chance points in the final period, which of course helped the Nuggets to pick up the W. Anecdotally, it seemed as if they corralled in every single long rebound, which of course wasn’t the case, but was still a major factor in Indiana’s inability to get stops throughout the night.
The Pacers had a number of solid individual efforts offensively, with Lamb leading the way with a season high 30 points. Lamb shot 9-13, including 5-5 from three point range. When Indiana needed a bucket, Lamb was there all night. Warren had 20 in support, but came up empty from three point range after a 2-2 first quarter.
Up front, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis played well, scoring 21 and 18 respectively, forcing Jokic onto the bench early with his three fouls. Turner was a big factor in the fourth in keeping the Pacers within reach, scoring 12, but was twice switched off of Jokic, who feasted on the smaller Holiday brothers for a pair of easy buckets. Sabonis had a team high four offensive rebounds, leading to seven second chance points.
Aaron Holiday started in absence of Malcolm Brogdon, finishing with just six points, but dishing out 10 assists. On the night, the Pacers had 32 assists, marking their first loss of the season when getting over 30. Part of that came due to foul trouble from Holiday in the third quarter, forcing T.J. McConnell into heavy minutes in that quarter.
McConnell played well in those minutes, but the lack of point guard depth without Brogdon and Edmond Sumner came into light in that quarter when the rotations were thrown into a havoc, taking away a potential gamebreaker in Holiday and taking away McConnell’s ability to go all out. It’s no surprise that ended up being Indiana’s lowing scoring quarter at just 24 points.
The Pacers play just five home games in January, which makes this loss that much harder to take on. Tough home opponents will be a common theme this month, but that will be offset by playing a number of below .500 teams on the road. Even still, they won’t be guarantees, which starts on Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, wrapping up the season series.