With 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, Myles Turner poked the ball loose from Devin Booker. Malcolm Brogdon dove towards it, ultimately falling out of bounds, retaining possession for the Phoenix Suns. On the inbounds, Mikal Bridges found himself wide open for a three, drilling it, putting the Suns ahead 118-105 over the Indiana Pacers in what would be a 125-117 win for Phoenix.
That single possession was not only the dagger in the game for the Pacers, but encapsulated their three main issues all night in defending the Suns: an inability to force turnovers, a number of wide open threes, and a Bridges career night. The Suns, following a tough loss the night before in Detroit, came into Indianapolis with an absolute purpose, playing a tremendous game offensively to just overpower the Pacers, decimating their margin for error.
The game itself was an exciting back and forth affair in the first quarter and a half, but a scoring slump in the final five minutes of the second quarter allowed the Suns to turn a four-point deficit into a three point lead at the half. That advantage would hold for the rest of the game as the Pacers were simply unable to get over the hump, falling behind big, climbing back to within a single possession, and then falling behind yet again.
Nowhere was this more noticeable than when Nate Bjorkgren truly put trust in his second for the first time this season, running an all-bench lineup early in the fourth against a Suns lineup that included Chris Paul and Booker. In the two or so minutes of action, featuring very good minutes from both Edmond Sumner and Cassius Stanley, the Pacers scored five and held Phoenix scoreless, cutting a seven point deficit to two.
The starters returned, and so too did the Suns, instantly running off 11 straight. They would ultimately score on nine of 10 possessions leading up to the dagger three by Bridges, including forcing a pair of crucial turnovers turned baskets with the lead just four. Those two turnovers (and four points) all but outpaced Indiana’s output for the game, forcing three turnovers for the entire night.
Indiana entered the night 3rd in the league forcing turnovers, which is part of what makes Phoenix’s ball control so impressive. It’s hard to imagine T.J. McConnell’s absence (attending the birth of his son, congratulations to him and Valerie!) could play that big of a role in Indiana’s defensive energy, but it was definitely missed.
The Pacers themselves were really good in that area, committing just 10 turnovers, but the 12-2 deficit in points off turnovers was too much of a hurdle to overcome on a night when Phoenix has their offense in such a rhythm. The Suns also hit 16 threes, a number of them wide open, and a number of those from Bridges, who piled on a career best 34, hitting six triples.
For the Pacers, there were a number of notable individual performances, including a 28 point, 22 rebound outing from Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis led the way for the Pacers on the glass, helping them to a sizeable 52-40 edge on the glass, outrebounding Phoenix by nine on the offensive end and outscoring them 56-38 in the paint.
Those are typically recipes for the success for Indiana, especially when Myles Turner can score 15 on 6-8 shooting, pull in 10 rebounds, and block four shots. He also had three impressive assists, all to Sabonis for big buckets. Unfortunately, things kind of came apart for Indiana with their backcourt play.
Victor Oladipo and Brogdon combined for 38 points, but it came at the cost of efficiency, shooting 14-41 between them. Brogdon in particular was terrible the rim, going 3-12 in the paint. Oladipo meanwhile couldn’t find rhythm from anywhere on the floor, being unable to get to the line, though he did throw down a massive dunk in the third quarter that would have blown the roof off of a sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Without McConnell, Aaron Holiday picked up extra minutes as the backup point guard. After hitting a three to open the game, Holiday struggled against Paul, especially in the second unit, failing to make any sort of impact outside of an assist to Justin Holiday, who led the second unit with 17 points and five rebounds.
This led to rotation shuffling, including the play of Sumner and Stanley. Sumner, still curiously absent from the rotation at all, scored four points and had a steal in his short time on the floor. Stanley helped force a miss from Paul in the 5-0 run he was in the game for. Doug McDermott had 12 points on a perfect 3-3 shooting (including two threes), but was unable to be a big part of the offense.
In general, however, the Pacers were just outplayed by the Suns, and not in any sort of truly negative way. This was an extremely well-played game, especially for Phoenix, who came out with a purpose and played an absolutely seamless and complete game on offense. That’s tough to overcome on a night when you can force turnovers, even if its at a relatively low rate. It simply becomes impossible when a team can control the ball at a historic level.
The Pacers drop to 6-3 (and out of first place) with the loss, ending their home-heavy start to the year. They’ll head out West for a real test, playing five games in seven nights, including two back-to-backs. The first of those back-to-backs starts on Monday when the Pacers face the only below .500 team on the trip, the 4-5 Sacramento Kings.