There wasn’t much to this one late. The Indiana Pacers bricked their way to a blowout loss against the Milwaukee Bucks in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-13 to start the quarter with four turnovers as the Bucks outscored Indiana 26-8 in seven minutes to halt Indiana’s winning streak at four games.
The start to the fourth looked similar on the scoreboard to the start of the game, when the Bucks raced out to a 25-6 lead, eventually going up by 22 late in the first. Poor shooting again was the cause to the struggles as the Pacers took a bit too long to figure out how best to attack Milwaukee’s defense, leading to what was a 51-14 deficit in the first and fourth quarters.
So leads to the moral victory platitudes in Indiana actually beating the Bucks 86-68 across the rest of the game. Unfortunately, however, the league isn’t big in erasing random intervals of games to change the outcome, so it’s a pretty comfortable loss in the end. What it does show is why despite ending up a 19-point loss thanks to some garbage time success, there aren’t the same lingering frustrations that are often on display in these types of final scores.
Part of that may just be the opponent. The Bucks improve to 53-9 with the win, the third best record ever across 62 games with a 12.4 point differential (which would be the best ever if maintained). The fact the Bucks have been so dominate can easily skew what is actually deemed “competitive” in a matchup with them, but the Pacers were, even by traditional measurements, at least that for many stretches within this game. However, as Indiana saw, and nearly paid for in their lone win this year against Milwaukee, it takes more than just “stretches” against a team this good.
Down by 22 late in the first quarter, the Pacers found some much needed life from the second unit. Doug McDermott hit a three to snap an 8-0 Milwaukee run, setting up the Pacers to wrap up the first quarter on a 9-1 run. That carried over into the second quarter, as McDermott rattled off three more triples to cut the lead to eight early in the quarter.
After Milwaukee pushed the lead back into double figures, the Pacers responded yet again, scoring five straight and then getting two more on a T.J. McConnell backcourt steal to cut the deficit to three with four minutes left in the half.
McConnell was thrust into extra minutes following a first half hip injury to Malcolm Brogdon decimated the Indiana backcourt further. McConnell completely flipped his recent struggles, bringing to life not only his game, but the Pacers in the process. He scored 10 in the first half and assisted on four more, finding T.J. Warren for a dunk late in the first half.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Warren came to life in the second, scoring 14 in the second. By the time halftime came, the Pacers trailed by just two at 58-56, outscoring the Bucks 33-22 in the quarter and blanking them from three point range in the quarter. Along with McDermott’s nine points in the quarter, the Pacers put themselves in great position following the opening debacle.
The Pacers didn’t let up to start the third. McConnell scored the opening bucket to the tie the game and after a Brook Lopez three, Domantas Sabonis responded with a seemingly patented midrange jumper to make it a 63-62 game. At this point, a high water mark of sorts, the game turned away from the Pacers in a rather unfortunate way.
Indiana managed to force three straight stops on Milwaukee after cutting the lead to one, but came up empty on all three possessions. Suddenly, Khris Middleton scored five straight. Then Giannis Antetokounmpo scored five straight. Then Wesley Matthews scored five straight. Just like that, the scoreboard wasn’t looking too friendly anymore.
Milwaukee hit six three pointers in the quarter to push their lead to 18 points with two and a half minutes remaining. McConnell, returning with the second unit, had other plans, sparking an 8-0 Pacers run to end the quarter, sparking Justin Holiday and Goga Bitadze to finish on a high note.
That would prove the last real positive of the night for the Pacers. Eric Bledsoe attacked the rim, getting to the line a couple of times, scoring nine in the first three minutes to push the lead out to 20, setting up Antetokounmpo to leave no doubt with nine of his own in the fourth.
Shooting betrayed the Pacers in the second half. In part with Milwaukee’s defense, the Pacers came up flat from distance after the break. They shot 1-13 from three point range, the lone make coming from Bitadze to end the game. McDermott, despite being 3-3 in the first half, only had two shots in the second half, neither of which from deep.
The inability to hit threes really put a cap on Indiana’s potential tonight. Milwaukee shot just three percentage points higher than Indiana’s 25.9%, but the sheer volume of attempts allowed them to bring in six extra makes, just enough to help them ensure the victory after their struggles in the second quarter.
Indiana did very well tonight in capitalizing off of turnovers, outscoring the Bucks 30-20 in points off turnovers. The points scored was a success, but the 16 turnovers committed by the Pacers weren’t so much of a positive given how a number of them came on careless and errant possessions.
That proved to be about the only real advantage the Pacers held overall, as Milwaukee slaughtered Indiana in transition, outscoring them 37-14. They also held a 20-9 advantage at the free throw line, benefiting from half as many foul calls as the Pacers. The Pacers were also outrebounded by 17, including an 11-7 deficit in offensive boards.
Individually, the Pacers were led by Warren with 18 points. Warren only had four points after his second quqarter explosion, however, finishing 8-18 from the field. None of Indiana’s starter shot above 50%, including Brogdon, who was 2-6 in his 11 minutes, living and dying on the floater in the early stages of the game.
Sabonis had 15 points and 10 rebounds, but really labored to make an impact on the game offensively. Inside, Sabonis was ineffective, shooting just 2-8 at the rim. B. Lopez did his part in taking away Sabonis’s post play, forcing him to look away from shots early when Indiana was desperately in need of something.
Sabonis did find success in the midrange, however. He was 2-3 from the key and 3-4 overall in the 17-19 foot range. Since the All-Star Break, Sabonis is 8-14 with the jumper extending out to 21 feet. On nights like this, when his post game simply isn’t in the cards, his ability to find success with the David West Special will be crucial in keeping him a factor in games.
Also up front, Myles Turner had a rather interesting game himself. While he also struggled offensively, scoring seven points on 3-9 shooting, he did an admirable job as a primary defender on Antetokounmpo. While Antetokounmpo found his in the fourth quarter, he was hardly efficient in his game up until that point, shooting 7-19 for 20 points.
Turner’s defense forced Antetokounmpo into three separate jump balls. The Pacers won possession in the first two, but it was Milwaukee’s ability to come up with the final jump ball that closed the door on the game after Indiana had cut the lead to 18 on a Turner jumper. Antetokounmpo was also more than content to sit back and take threes with Turner guarding him. He shot 2-8, tying his season high in three point attempts, the first time reaching that number since December 4.
McDermott (16 points) and McConnell (14) led the Pacers off the bench. Their contributions in the first half were invaluable, as was McConnell’s game as a whole. McConnell had six assists and four rebounds, leading the bench in both categories, including a team high two offensive boards alongside JaKarr Sampson. His second of two steals came to open the third, stealing a Lopez inbounds, but Lopez managed to block McConnell’s attempt, keeping the Pacers from what would’ve otherwise been their first lead of the game.
With the loss, the Pacers drop to 37-25 on the season, holding onto the fifth seed by virtue of tiebreaker, winning in the first round as the fifth seed all but guaranteeing a second round matchup with these Bucks. They also fall to 2-1 on their current five game road trip, but will have another opportunity to clinch a winning record when they face the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
Victor Oladipo missed his second straight game with knee soreness, but was closer to returning tonight than not, hopefully giving the Pacers some positive injury news following the sore hip to Brogdon.