The late game struggles from the Indiana Pacers nearly became a storyline again, but Myles Turner ensured that a 7-0 run by the Portland Trail Blazers wouldn’t determine the game, stepping into a dagger three pointer with nine seconds remaining to secure their fourth win in five games.
While they did in fact do all of those things, tonight carried some of the same issues that have plagued them throughout the past month, be it blanking offensively for long stretches, struggling with turnovers and rebounding, or failing to piece together the right stops at the right time earlier in games.
Victor Oladipo talked in the post-game about how “basketball is a game of different games” in response to the team’s resiliency, but it also works in talking about their search for consistency. The different games in tonight’s game included not only excellent showcase stretches for each of the five starters, but also in a dreadful second quarter that ultimately put them in that position late.
The Pacers led 30-24 after the first quarter, getting there through their efficient scoring. They shot over 60% despite early foul trouble from Domantas Sabonis, which quickly became the de facto storyline when he picked up his third foul 90 seconds into the second quarter.
Without Sabonis, Nate McMillan mixed and matched rotations, ultimately going 11 deep with run for both Goga Bitadze and JaKarr Sampson. The two had some nice moments, but cashing in on the positives proved excruciating in the second. They shot 5-21 for the quarter, mustering up just 13 points, allowing the Blazers to take the lead late in the quarter thanks to a strong close to the half from C.J. McCollum.
Out of the half, Oladipo lifted the Indiana offense, scoring 12 points in the third quarter. He got there by attacking the rim, drawing a pair of fouls early to set up the Pacers in the bonus. Indiana, notoriously bad at getting to the line, went 12-13 in the third, simultaneously getting McCollum to pick up his fourth foul late in the period.
Unfortunately, despite Oladipo’s success early, the defense wasn’t matching suit, allowing the Blazers to hold the edge throughout the quarter, ultimately pushing their six point halftime lead as high as nine. Down 60-51, the Pacers finally found those stops, storming back on a 9-0 run to tie the game.
Portland quickly responded, scoring the next five to stay out front, leading 72-67 with just over three left in the quarter. They scored after Turner swatted Trevor Ariza on the drive, but even in ultimately allowing a bucket, it proved a turning point for Indiana, who responded in similar fashion after a Hassan Whiteside blocked turned into a Malcolm Brogdon jumper.
The jumper kickstarted a 13-3 run to close the quarter for the Pacers, taking the lead on the second Turner putback dunk of the quarter, then Justin Holiday highlighted seven straight in the final minute with a much needed three pointer to take an 80-75 lead into the final period.
Sabonis’s absence was a driving factor in Indiana’s offense stalling in the second quarter, something Sabonis’s availability in the fourth wouldn’t dare repeat. After scoring the first bucket of the fourth quarter for the Pacers, Sabonis pushed the lead to double figures with six straight points at the rim, including this hustle play and finish.
His final points would put Indiana ahead by 12 with 3:40 left, when Portland would begin to stage a comeback. After going up 101-89, the Pacers made just one shot for the next three and a half minutes, committing two costly turnovers and allowing two costly offensive rebounds.
By the time the Pacers were able to regroup, Portland had cut the lead to three at 103-100, forcing an Indiana timeout. On the play out of the break, Brogdon would dish to Sabonis off of the pick and roll, setting up a shot at the rim for Sabonis, a surefire shot throughout the fourth. Instead of challenging the well-recovered Whiteside, Sabonis winged a pass to the open and ready Turner, who stepped into the dagger three.
Though it wasn’t the prettiest conclusion, the Pacers managed to do just enough to hold off Portland. The three not only sealed the win, it gave the Pacers a 26-25 fourth quarter win, a solid consolation given the rocky play late.
Sabonis led the way for the Pacers with 20 points, including 10 in the final period. Fourteen of those points came in the paint, with four more at the free throw line. As a team, the Pacers had 50 points in the paint, enough to edge Portland’s 48 while also outscoring Portland at the line 18-9.
All five starters reached double figures, including 15 points from Oladipo, tying his season high. He continued to play within the offense, shooting 5-9, the fewest shots of the starters, but attacked with more purpose than he has, which allowed him to score 12 in the third. Oladipo struggled tonight with ball control, committing a team high four turnovers.
Those turnovers turned into 11 Trail Blazers points, but it proved a positive in Indiana’s favor, coming up with numerous live ball turnovers to outscore Portland 19-11 in points off turnovers. Oladipo had one of the team’s eight, led by Warren with two. Warren’s shot wasn’t as on-point tonight, finishing 6-13, but he had two key buckets midway through the fourth to help push the lead to a game high 14, scoring 15.
Brogdon had 17 points and eight assists. He needed 20 shots to get there, but had just enough at the right times to benefit the Pacers. He had the lone bucket in Indiana’s near-collapse, but also scored to close the half, a much needed shot as McCollum and the Blazers looked to seize control.
Turner meanwhile had 14 and 10, his second straight double double, including a pair of blocks. Turner was key defensively, not only in his blocks, but in a play late in the second when a deflection saved a potential McCollum corner three attempt after Oladipo rushed to help Aaron Holiday against Carmelo Anthony.
He also made the most of his opportunities in the third quarter. In addition to his two follow-up dunks, he also started the third with another must-needed three, a prayer against Anthony with the shot clock expiring.
Off the bench, it was J. Holiday that helped salvage an otherwise interchangeable second unit. Holiday had 11 points with three three pointers, crucial for Indiana’s struggles behind the arc tonight, not to mention him being the lone bench player to hit a three. He was joined on the scoreboard by Bitadze (two points), but also A. Holiday and T.J. McConnell, who each had six.
The fourth Holiday swung for the fences in the third, but also attacked with a purpose, taking full advantage of being in the bonus for a pair of trips to the line. McConnell meanwhile had two of his four assists in the fourth, finding Sabonis both times to help push the lead to double figures.
The Pacers complete a 2-0 home stand before heading out on the road. It’s their third straight win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse overall, moving them to 21-10. Tonight’s win also clinches their 31st consecutive season with a winning home record (#31 was also calling the game!).
Speaking of home court, in improving to 4-1 in their last five, the Pacers have quietly worked their way back into discussion for home court advantage. They climb to within 1.5 games of both Miami and Philadelphia, sitting above them in 4th and 5th.
Indiana boasts the best road record of those three teams, which will be put to the test as they play five straight (and six of their next seven) outside of Indianapolis. That begins with the fifth meeting against Andre Drummond, facing his new team the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.