After the extensive struggles the Indiana Pacers have faced in February, piecing together an impressive win over the Milwaukee Bucks is the best way possible to head into the All-Star Break. The Pacers nearly led wire-to-wire, forcing the Bucks into turnovers in three of their first four possessions while T.J. Warren scored six straight to push Indiana ahead early.
Indiana’s lead was 14 at the end of the first quarter, limiting Milwaukee to just 20 points. They got there by not only hitting shots (including four first quarter threes), but by outworking the Bucks defensively. The Pacers outrebounded the Bucks 14-4 in the first, an advantage that held throughout the first half.
Jeremy Lamb pushed the lead to 20 early in the second and Malcolm Brogdon pulled up for a jumper that set the high water mark at 25. Milwaukee cut into the lead with back-to-back threes, but nine straight Pacers points helped close the first half in style, outscoring Milwaukee 68-45 in the half.
Out of the half, the Pacers struggled to find much in the way of offense. They missed their first seven shots, but did manage to hold the Bucks to just five points in that stretch, opening up Victor Oladipo to hit a three to push the lead back over 20. That trend would carry itself throughout the third with the Pacers doing just enough to keep Milwaukee at a ~20 point deficit until Sterling Brown and Marvin Williams hit back-to-back threes to turn the heat up on Indiana.
Milwaukee closed the third on an 11-2 run, trailing by 11 heading into the fourth. Milwaukee scored six more to open the fourth, prompting Nate McMillan to return the starters (at least mostly). The decision paid off, with Brogdon scoring four straight and assisting on a Lamb layup to open up the offense, but Milwaukee continued to score at will, picking up back-to-back fouls on Domantas Sabonis before McMillan finally inserted Myles Turner back into the game.
Turner tonight was outstanding on both ends of the floor. He scored 12 first half points but also helped control the glass, getting five boards in the first half. In the second half, the rebounding began to lag behind, which allowed the Bucks to slowly work their way back into the game.
With Turner back in the fold after Milwaukee had cut the lead to four at 88-84, the Pacers tore back into control on a 10-0 run. Brogdon found Lamb and Warren for back-to-back threes, then scoring four straight himself. One of the deciding plays of the game came shortly after, with Turner missing from three, but corralling the long tip from Lamb, driving and finding Lamb for a reverse layup to make it a 16 point lead with four and a half minutes remaining.
Turner would eventually push the lead to 17 with his own bucket, giving the Pacers enough breathing room to hold off a Donte DiVincenzo and Ersan Ilyasova rally. Warren would have a response each time, however, scoring six of his 11 fourth quarter points in just over 30 seconds to hold off the late Milwaukee push, giving the Pacers a much needed 118-111 win.
Warren, the professional buckets getter, led the way for the Pacers with 35 points on the night, pulling in seven boards and picking up four steals. He shot a wildly efficient 16-19 from the floor. Not only was Warren the go-to scorer tonight, but he also did a tremendous job limiting the effectiveness of Khris Middleton, stepping up to the lead role with Giannis Antetokounmpo out, limiting him to 17 points on 6-17 shooting.
With Warren taking on the scoring load, the play around him was able to flourish in other areas. Turner in particular was indespinsible. He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, including a pair of blocks. His second block came in the early stages of the Milwaukee mini-rally, blocking Ilysaova after coming close on a pair earlier in the quarter.
PERFECT block from Myles Turner coming from the weakside: pic.twitter.com/Q5N6O40e96— Tony East (@TEastNBA) February 13, 2020
So it was all the more stranger when McMillan put Sabonis back in the game to close it out. It was unlikely Milwaukee was going to complete a comeback, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. After Turner went out, the Pacers were outscored by five, bringing the fourth quarter totals to -10 without Turner and +8 with him.
Part of that had to do with the struggles Sabonis had in the second half. After a solid, but not terribly efficient first half, Sabonis scored just two points after the break, shooting 0-4. He effectively worked his way to the line early, leading the Paces with 10 free throw attempts, making seven. From the floor, however, he was just 4-15, below even where he has been in the previous matchups with Milwaukee.
Brogdon picked a good game to turn things around somewhat, scoring 17 points and dishing a season high tying 13 assists. Brogdon shot 6-13, not quite 50%, but the best home performance since their last win against Chicago. While his three point shot continues to struggle (1-5), he was much more in line with his early season production, playing in control.
That was helped by a more eager-to-defer Oladipo, who had an efficient night of 13 points on 5-7 shooting. Oladipo picked his battles offensively tonight, hitting a calming effect three early in the fourth, blasting to the line at the end of the first half and being largely a menace on the defensive end. There was a scary moment late in the game, however, when Oladipo challenged a shot at the rim, landing awkwardly on his legs. He popped up, however, not showing much in the way of concern, which is a key positive.
The game, the Pacers controlled the paint, outscoring Milwaukee 54-42 and truly capitalized on turnovers, topping the Bucks 33-20 in points off turnovers. That proved key for the Pacers as they were a little lackadaisical themselves with the ball, something that ultimately kept them from either win against Toronto last week.
The Pacers also brought a little more zone into their gameplan after “debuting” it against the Nets. The number of plays were limited according to Caitlyn, but had some positives early. With teams willing and ready to zone up against the Pacers, for Dan Burke and the staff to be more accepting of running it themselves could be an interesting wrinkle as the final stretch of the season kicks off next weekend.
In the meantime, the Pacers will head into the All-Star Break with a W. It improves them to 32-23 overall and 19-10 at home. Neither record is anything to scoff at, though where Indiana was prior to this six game losing streak makes the current standing a little underwhelming.
On a positive note, the win does get the Pacers a game back against the 2-4 seeded Celtics, Heat, and Raptors, who all suffered losses. They sit two games back of 5th placed Philadelphia. The Pacers as a team will be back in action on Friday the 21st, when they face the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
In the meantime, Sabonis will move front and center as the Indiana Pacers representative at All-Star Weekend. He’ll , taking part in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday and then as part of Team LeBron on Sunday in the All-Star Game.