A dominant second quarter fueled the Indiana Pacers to an impressive win over the Portland Trail Blazers, snapping an 11-game losing streak at the Moda Center and getting them to 2-1 on their road trip. The Pacers outscored Portland 33-10 in the quarter, turning up the defensive intensity to another level, holding the Blazers to 4-19 shooting and capitalizing off of stops and blocks.
Despite taking a 23-point lead into the break, the Pacers weren’t out of the woods yet. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard willed Portland back into the game, helping the Blazers to seven made threes in the quarter to cut the lead in half heading into the fourth. Once there, the Pacers managed to close the game out, thanks to 13 fourth quarter points from Domantas Sabonis, after he had knocked knees with Gary Trent Jr. Sabonis finished up his night with a 23 point, 15 rebound double double, putting one one shy of tying his own franchise record for most consecutive double doubles.
Though Lillard and McCollum brought the game within reach, it proved too much after Jusuf Nurkic left the game with a broken wrist in the third quarter. Hopefully it can be a quick recovery for Nurkic, who had just worked hard to come back after a compound fracture in 2019. Though he had just five points, he hit a three to open the third and had really done a good job containing Sabonis despite the score getting out of hand at the end of the half.
The Blazers still fought to close the halftime gap in the third, outscoring the Pacers 35-25. Indiana, to their credit, summoned all the willpower of Indianapolis Colts’ defenses, bending, but not breaking, keeping Portland from ever getting the game into single digits in the third. That provided them just enough of a cushion to close out the game in the fourth, outscoring the Trail Blazers 27-16 in the final period.
For the game, the Pacers held Portland under 40%, topping them in every major category, including a tidy 27-13 win in points off turnovers. The Pacers had four double figure scorers on a night when all nine of the regular rotation players showed out, while Portland struggled on the second night of a back-to-back, only getting extended production from their league-best backcourt.
Malcolm Brogdon did lead the way for Indiana’s backcourt tonight, scoring 25 points with seven assists and three steals. Brogdon hit a pair of threes to start the night and was on-point in finishing around the rim. The Pacers took a cue from Brogdon’s play inside, using that to a staggering 62-28 advantage in the paint.
Even with seven assists, Brogdon didn’t lead the way for the Pacers, as that went to T.J. McConnell, returning with big dad energy, for eight assists and three steals (two of which came in just six seconds). McConnell’s play was a huge boost not only to the second unit, but the team as a whole in the second quarter as he and JaKarr Sampson brought the loudest seven combined points in recent memory.
Edmond Sumner was fantastic in his second straight start, again doing more than just pile on the points. He did have seven on his own, picking up a pair of steals. One of those steals came when he poked the ball loose then blitzed to the other end of the floor so fast that when he saved the ball, the officials weren’t even able to see that he had (most likely) stepped out of bounds, then subsequently blowing a whistle when he was (most likely) fouled.
The flow of the game, in particular the second quarter, was aided by the way the officials called the game. It was one where both teams were awarded for physical play, allowing the Pacers to really ramp up the defensive energy. With Portland playing on the second straight night, they probably weren’t looking for that kind of game, which was bound to happen with McConnell and Sampson on the floor.
Aaron Holiday also had a big second quarter, scoring all six of his points about two minutes. It was a really nice stretch for Holiday, who, after a breakout night against Golden State, looked as comfortable in his role off the bench as he has all season, attacking the basket with a purpose. It was a welcome sight to see both him and Justin Holiday play well, with J. Holiday hitting a trio of threes for 11 points.
The real star of the second quarter was Myles Turner, however. Turner was an absolute force defensively, sending away two of his four blocks in the quarter while taking charge on the offensive end. This was one of those times when Turner showed his ability to control the game on both ends of the floor, a skill that has been conspicuously absent for the past couple of seasons.
This play in particular, in which Turner turned from guarding Lillard at the three point line, recovered to help on Nurkic, blocked his shot, forced a change of possession, then worked inside for an easy dunk was a phenomenal stretch of basketball for the big man, who has looked as comfortable on offense as he maybe has in his entire career.
Seems like we get 1 or 2 of these every game. Block by Turner on one end, dunk by Turner on the other: pic.twitter.com/gNyWgUJblb— Tony East (@TEastNBA) January 15, 2021
Eleven points may have been his total, but as was the case with the entire team, especially in the first half, they were loud because the team played loud and played with a purpose. The win moves them to 8-4 on the season, getting them to within a half a game of the top of the East.
They rebounded extremely well (literally, but in this case figuratively) from their two losses to Phoenix and Sacramento, locking them into at worst a .500 road trip, something that seemed possibly out of reach following the game against the Kings. Since that game, the defense has stepped up in a big way, holding Portland to just 87 points on the night, 36 in the first half, giving Indiana a four quarter stretch holding their opponents to just 74 points.
One of the reasons the Pacers have been guaranteed a .500 road trip (again, at worst) is due to the postponement of Saturday’s game against Phoenix due to COVID contract tracing. It’s the first such game that has affected the Pacers as it has grown more prevalent around the league in the past week.
The Pacers have been fortunate enough to avoid any positive cases, which is good news not only from the standpoint of the virus and wishing everyone good health, but also with their extensive injury list. Indiana is already cutting short available bodies without COVID, be it injuries or trades, as is the case with the Pacers playing their second straight game without Victor Oladipo as they await official word on his trade to Houston for Caris LeVert.
That means Indiana’s next game will, for now, be on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers. The getaway game will no longer be the second night of a back-to-back for Indiana, which will be nice in the meantime, though may come back to bite them if and when the league releases its second half schedule, still expected to include a road game against the Suns.