A truly difficult day around the league went ahead as scheduled following the tragic news of Kobe Bryant’s passing, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others after a helicopter crash earlier in the day. Bryant’s impact on the game was felt throughout each of the eight games played today, with teams paying tribute as best they could despite the heavy hearts weighing their spirits.
The Indiana Pacers, at the end of their five game road trip, wrapped up the league’s night against the Portland Trail Blazers, a difficult game in its own right, but made that much more trying given the tragedy. Upon tip-off, both teams joined in with others, committing a 24-second shot clock violation and 8-second violation in honor of Bryant.
Once the game began, it proved a difficult night for the Pacers defensively. Their 5-4 lead two minutes in would prove their final lead of the night after Damian Lillard hit his first of eight threes to put Portland up 7-5. Lillard would score 17 in the opening quarter, aided by the return of C.J. McCollum to help push Portland ahead by nine after one.
The Pacers, absent both Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner, were left in a difficult position with their rotations all night. The decision to start both T.J. McConnell and JaKarr Sampson failed to pay dividends on either side of the ball, but even when Nate McMillan found success offensively, there was just nowhere near enough poise on the defensive end to overcome a constant, ever growing points wall.
Even still, the Pacers weren’t without opportunities to climb back into the game, using their ability to force turnovers as a way of minimizing the damage of Lillard and McCollum. The Pacers forced 16 turnovers on the night, outscoring the Blazers 18-4 off of those miscues. They also outscored Portland 14-4 in fast break points, which played a part in cutting a game high 21-point deficit to 10 late in the third.
Though the Pacers did fight offensively, there was ultimately no answer for the play of the Blazers offense, particularly from Lillard. Lillard finished with 50 points on the night, scoring eight of those at the end of the first three quarters. Lillard’s buckets at the ends of the second and third quarters in particular gave Portland wins in each quarter, helping them take a 13-point lead into the fourth.
That lead held until the halfway point of the third when the Pacers scored six straight to make a seven point game, the closest they had been in the entire second half. T.J. Warren would foul Lillard on the ensuing possession, the foul leading to a reactionary kick between Lillard’s legs by Warren.
Though completely incidental, the officials somehow ruled the kick a flagrant foul, setting up Lillard to complete a five point play that pushed the lead back out to 12. That call, while unlikely to affect the outcome of the game, did ultimately decide the game, giving the Blazers just that little extra bit of cushion even as the Pacers drew as close as eight with two minutes left.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, however, each push generally ended up the same way; with a Portland three pointer. The Trail Blazers were a blistering 20-35 from three point range, including 67% combined from both Lillard and McCollum, hitting 14 between them. Though the Pacers won the battle in the paint, the absence of Turner made Indiana’s interior defense incredibly porous, leading to 12 offensive rebounds, giving Portland as many extra points.
Jeremy Lamb scored a team high 28 points, joined by Domantas Sabonis, finishing with 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists. Their play offensively wasn’t quite offset by the defensive struggles as a team, but the help within the starting lineup was very touch and go throughout. McConnell and Sampson combined for just nine points and Warren struggled to find his shooting tough, going 5-13 for 14 points.
Indiana did play well off the bench, however, outscoring Portland 51-19, led again by Doug McDermott with 19, hitting 6-8 from three point range again. Aaron Holiday had 17 while Justin Holiday was the sixth Pacer in double figures with 11. The trio combined for 11 of Indiana’s 13 threes, a really good 46.4% clip as a team.
Really good about sums up Indiana’s night offensively. Their 129 matched a season high, dating back to Friday night’s game against Golden State, they shot over 50%, and made a healthy amount of threes. Looking to the other side of the ball proves less than encouraging, however, and as is the case every single time the Pacers travel to Portland, it’s about Damian Lillard, improving to 8-0 against Indiana at home, averaging 28.6 PTS in those games.
The Pacers finish their five game West Coast trip at 3-2, which puts them at 30-17 on the year, tied for 5th in the East. They’ll return home to play seven of their next eight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse heading into the All-Star Break. That begins on Wednesday, when the Pacers host the Chicago Bulls. That game will also mark the season debut of Victor Oladipo.