The old adage about the NBA being a “make or miss” league turned out to be the difference tonight between the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, with the Hornets hitting five extra threes in a one-possession game to split the two-game series. The Pacers simply weren’t sharp enough on the defensive end and it came to light in the final minute when Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham hit back-to-back threes to bail out what had to that point been a fairly dreadful quarter for the Hornets.
The Pacers had surrendered the three all night, so it was only fitting the end result, after they had a 103-102 lead with 90 seconds left, would come on a pair of them. The first one was especially egregious, as Graham got a long rebound to Rozier on a Gordon Hayward miss. It was the fourth second chance three of the night for Charlotte and the third for Rozier.
For Indiana, the three point shot was far less kind. After hitting their first three to open the game, they finished just 8-32, while allowing 16-37 to Charlotte, making their 29th ranked three point defense even worse. That forced Indiana to play from behind nearly the entire game, falling behind at the end of the first quarter.
The Hornets were able to keep their lead at or around double figures despite some slight pushes from the Pacers, leading 92-82 early in the fourth. It was that point that Indiana flipped a switch of some kind, scoring nine straight points to close the gap to a single point. It was that point that Indiana’s offense came up short, missing six straight shots before Malcolm Brogdon put in a crucial three with 5:27 to tie the game.
It is worth noting how well Indiana’s defense played in that stretch to prevent the lead from ballooning up. Charlotte had just two points in five and a half minutes, but Indiana’s inability to score did a number on their margin for error. They would eventually go ahead with three minutes in the game. Myles Turner saved an errant Justin Holiday pass for the basket.
Again, Indiana would fail to do anything after getting a stop, eventually allowing Cody Zeller to score four straight at the rim to give Charlotte the lead. Jeremy Lamb had a response to put the Pacers up by a point with a three, but that’s when Rozier and Graham put them up five.
Brogdon hit a layup to cut the lead to three and Indiana did force a turnover on the other end, but couldn’t get a clean look on the game tying attempt. They took nearly the entirety of their 20 second possession to get an attempt away, a heavily contested shot by Brogdon that went awry, resulting in the three point loss.
Brogdon finished with 21 points, joining Sabonis and Turner in the 20-point club (that’s a good chance to plug Indiana’s All-Star nominees, go vote!). Outside of stretches, however, none of the three were truly dynamic in the way the Pacers needed, particularly after they lost Doug McDermott twice to separate injuries.
McDermott dislocated his thumb in the first half, returned, then fell hard in a charge against Zeller, sending him out of the game with a sore back. McDermott was well on his way to an encore of his 28-point outing on Wednesday, scoring nine points on 4-4 shooting in the first quarter (plus 30 seconds), terrorizing the Hornets defense with cuts and attacks to the basket.
It was sorely missed, especially in the fourth, when Lamb shot 0-3, missing shots he’d normally have no trouble knocking down. J. Holiday meanwhile was just 2-8 for the night, shooting 1-4 in the fourth. Outside of McDermott, the bench didn’t provide a large scoring punch either. Goga Bitadze and Edmond Sumner were a perfect 5-5 for 11 points, but got a total of 10 minutes run time. T.J. McConnell and Aaron Holiday were 1-7 for two points. They did have nine combined assists.
Though a tough loss, this wasn’t exactly a surprising one. In these two game series, teams are 6-27 in completing sweeps. It’s proven far too difficult to go 2-0 in these games and the Pacers don’t have the margin of error necessary to help lock in wins against teams they’re ahead of in the standings.
The downside to that is that the Pacers failed to pick up a winnable game before heading into a brutal six game stretch against four of the best teams in the league and another playoff team for good measure. They’ll start with a pair of home games on Sunday evening, facing the top seeded Philadelphia 76ers.