The Indiana Pacers bounced back into the win column with a solid, if not weird victory over the Houston Rockets. Active defense helped them overcome a freewheeling offensive performance, holding the Rockets under 40% shooting and just 28% from three point range. Their ability to force turnovers and actually win the rebounding battle gave Indiana 12 extra shots, finishing with 100 total shots.
This one had a real chance of getting away from Indiana early, however, as the Rockets stormed out to a 20-5 lead, hitting five of their first seven from three point range. The Pacers were able to turn things around with three point shooting of their own, going on a 21-5 run that brought them to within two.
One thing the Pacers struggled with all night was completing plays. Unforced turnovers allowed Houston to score five quick points, taking a seven point lead. Edmond Sumner cut it to four heading into the second quarter, where Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott came to life, hitting back-to-back threes to put Indiana on top.
Indiana was able to capitalize when James Harden rested, building a five point lead, one they were able to nurse heading into the half, leading 51-50. The weirdness of the first half worked in Indiana’s favor as the Rockets shot just 1-10 from three in the second quarter, but aiming for big plays off risky passes and an inability to finish around the rim kept the Pacers from building their lead into double figures.
Fortunately for the Pacers, that wasn’t haunting them too much in the third quarter, going back and forth with Houston, but maintaining a lead, razor thin as it was. Harden broke the game in Houston’s favor with five straight points, assisting to Robert Covington to make it a two possession game.
Victor Oladipo would trade baskets with Harden to keep the game at five when the second unit pushed the Pacers back into the game. With Harden ready to exit, T.J. McConnell found Sumner and McDermott for an 8-0 Pacers run that put them back on top heading into the fourth.
Indiana showed their best poise in the fourth, steadily building their lead into the double figure range even after Harden returned to action. A McDermott layup pushed the lead to 14 with five minutes remaining, hopefully giving them just enough room to withstand a Harden-led push. He scored Houston’s next eight, finding Chris Clemons for a third straight three to make it a four point game with just under two and a half minutes remaining.
The Pacers began to double team Harden, finally forcing misses from around him, but he would eventually score with 27 seconds left to make it a two point game. Oladipo missed a dagger three, but Myles Turner was able to tip the miss to Holiday, who went to the line to ice the game with 6.5 seconds remaining.
Not only was this the second highest shot total of the season for the Pacers (100), but it was also their second win of the year when shooting as badly as they did (40%). They were able to get there thanks to defense and rebounding. Indiana had their first rebounding win of the bubble, getting 12 offensive rebounds, which turned into 12 points.
Myles Turner led the way on the glass with 12 boards, picking up seven on the offensive end. While he was again hurt by foul trouble, his rebounding in the fourth played a big part in securing the win, first scoring on a putback as Harden led the Rockets on a 14-2 comeback and then tipping the ball to Holiday for the win.
He also led the team in scoring with 18, joined by Holiday, who broke out after a frustrating bubble showing to date. He shot 6-10 for the game and 4-8 from three point range. He led the starters along with JaKarr Sampson with two steals as Indiana forced the Rockets into 20 turnovers on 15 steals as a team, scoring 25 off of those turnovers.
Alize Johnson led the team in that area with three of his own, as everyone on the team registering a steal outside of Sumner. Sumner had a breakout performance of his own, however, leading the second unit with 17 points on 6-11 shooting. He benefited on a pair of buckets from McConnell in the third quarter to help Indiana keep pace with Harden and the Rockets.
McConnell led the team in assists with seven, getting McDermott involved for his own breakout performance, scoring 16 with a perfect 3-3 showing. In a game the Pacers were without both T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon, it proved to be the perfect time to get the necessary shooting from Holiday and McConnell, combining for 7-11 shooting from three point range, reaching their total number of threes made in this one.
Three point shooting was of course a big storyline heading into the game given the volume in which the Rockets shoot it and the Pacers weathered it surprisingly well. Houston shot 16-57 for the game, nearly half of their makes coming from Harden. The Pacers meanwhile made 11 threes, roughly their season average, but the hot shooting from Holiday and McDermott (including a pair from Sumner) helped tremendously.
On the opposite end of the shooting spectrum was Aaron Holiday and Oladipo. A. Holiday had his worst outing of the bubble with two points on 1-11 shooting and Oladipo did as well, scoring 16 on 7-26 shooting. While Holiday appeared to simply have an off night, Oladipo was a much greater offensive focus without Warren and Brogdon in the lineup.
While Oladipo struggled not only from three (2-12), he had a very difficult time around the basket, scoring four on five attempts in the paint with no free throws. The latter isn’t a grave concern, however, as the officials were light on fouls at times as I assume they had a reservation at Victoria & Albert’s to make. Two free throws were taken from Oladipo at the end of the first half, when a potential thunder jam was met by a Covington forearm to the face, with no whistle.
Even though he struggled shooting the ball from most areas (finding some success in the midrange), it rarely felt as if he were playing outside of the game. Part of this may have been because the feel of the game never quite felt right, but he also played to work out aspects of his game in what seems probably his final game prior to the start of the postseason.
The outcome of the game itself was also likely inconsequential to playoff seeding, allowing greater freedom for Oladipo to search for his spots on the floor. With Philadelphia losing to Phoenix yesterday, Indiana’s magic number to be in the 4-5 matchup with Miami was down to one with Philly still having two games to play. Indiana winning against Houston clinched the matchup, but as it turns out, Philadelphia lost tonight as well to finalize the playoff seeding regardless.
With one game remaining in the regular season, the East playoff series are set. The Pacers will indeed face the Miami Heat, not only Friday, but starting next week. Indiana’s results against Miami this season have been, in three words, not so good. The Heat are the only team in the East the Pacers haven’t beaten this season, holding a -47 point differential in their three losses this season.
Indiana may still pick up that win yet as the teams will wrap up the regular season against each other on Friday, though it will serve as little more than a nice story with the teams gearing up for a first round series next week. Without home court, there won’t be any real incentive to go all out for the win even if the 4 seed is still within reach pending the result of Miami’s game tonight.