The long-standing struggles against the Milwaukee Bucks continued tonight for the Indiana Pacers, losing their eighth straight game against Giannis Antetokounmpo specifically. It was a game that more or less slipped from Indiana’s grasp at the end of the first quarter, but they weren’t without their opportunities late to flip the script.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, the better team would prevail tonight. Even short Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, the duo of Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton proved more than a handful for Indiana. The Pacers, to their credit, played well in the first quarter, leading most of the way and going up by as many as five in the late stages of the period.
Foul trouble to both Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis opened up a spot for Goga Bitadze to make his season debut, scoring seven to give Indiana a 30-28 lead with under two to go in the first, even drawing one of two first quarter fouls on Antetokounmpo to send him to the bench.
With the game tied on the final possession, Middleton hit a three in the deepest recesses of the corner. A strong contest from Malcolm Brogdon wasn’t enough to prevent the shot from going in, nor was Bitadze barreling into Middleton enough to keep him off the free throw line, proving to be a lethal four-point play to end the quarter.
The Bucks would score the first four of the second quarter, capping off a 10-0 run before the Pacers could get a word in edgewise. Milwaukee came in waves, swallowing up any potential Pacers response, eventually building their lead up to 11. At that point, Indiana punched back, going on an 8-0 run to make it a three-point game, but two missed shots and a turnover later, the deficit had tripled, putting Milwaukee ahead 66-57 at the break.
The third quarter struggles continued for the Pacers, getting outscored 20-9 to fall behind by 18 with under five to go in the quarter. A trio of three pointers managed to slice the lead down to 11, but once again, another wave swelled up, submerging the Pacers on a 10-2 Bucks run.
One thing the Pacers did have going for them tonight was their effort. While the execution left a lot to be desired, especially given the championship opposition, Indiana continued to get up off the mat, swinging back. Chris Duarte scored five early in the fourth to bring them 10, as close as they had been all half.
Sabonis made it a single digit game on the next possession and Brogdon had a response of his own after Thanasis Antetokounmpo halted Indiana’s then 8-0 run. Justin Holiday would follow up with a three pointer, making it a five point game at 107-102 halfway through the quarter.
With Turner’s foul trouble again limiting his minutes, Rick Carlisle ran a Sabonis/Bitadze double big lineup in the fourth. While Antetokounmpo had no issue getting whatever he wanted throughout the night, he did meet up with some semblance of resistance when Bitadze guarded him.
After Giannis fed Thanasis for another shot at the basket to expand the lead back to seven, Brogdon missed his pullup. A seemingly easy rebound for the MVP Antetokounmpo on the miss was disrupted by Bitadze, pulling away the board and heading to the floor. In the ensuing scramble, Brogdon and Middleton wound up with it in a jump ball situation, with Middleton and Bitadze having some words and forearm shoves on the floor with George Hill stepping into the scuffle.
After resolving the technical assessments in a rather odd direction (Bitadze and Hill got technicals, Middleton did not), the jump ball proceeded. Brogdon won the tip against Middleton, but Sabonis was unable to corral the loose ball. The failure to do so proved devastating for Indiana’s chances at an upset, as Pat Connaughton stepped into a corner three that made it a double figure game once more.
The game would wrap up right at that 10 point differential, with the Bucks holding off the Pacers 119-109. The Pacers outrebounded the Bucks (47-42) and put in a few more threes (14-11), but those were the only notable team positives in an otherwise lopsided Bucks showcase.
In the halftime interview with Jeremiah Johnson, Jenny Boucek summed up Indiana’s issues succinctly, lamenting the points in the paint and the fast break opportunities, both heavily skewed in Milwaukee’s favor. The Bucks outscored Indiana 58-34 inside and 24-6 in the fast break. The Pacers also had 19 turnovers, getting beaten 22-6 in points off turnovers, a concerning trend for a team that’s thrived in such areas in past seasons.
For the Pacers, Brogdon led the way with 25 points and seven assists. After a slow start, he picked it up late, scoring seven in the final period. It was really the best Brogdon has played against his former team, bringing some life to the offense. Sabonis followed up with 21 points and 13 rebounds, scoring six himself in the final quarter.
Duarte had 18 and while the efficiency continues to lag behind his intentions at 7-16 shooting, he was right there with some big plays late, including that five-point run that helped push Indiana back into the game in the fourth. Holiday meanwhile, scored 12, hitting on 4-9 from three point range with three steals.
Turner had five points in 14 minutes of action, picking up the team’s only block on the night, sitting in the fourth in favor of Bitadze. After his big seven point first quarter, Bitadze would go scoreless, but continued to stay active in the game, pulling in nine rebounds and two steals. Seven of those rebounds came on the offensive end, including some nice snags while doing about as good a job as expected contesting Antetokounmpo on the defensive end.
Jeremy Lamb was the only bench player tonight to reach double figures, scoring 11. He would get a bulk of those points late in the third quarter to keep the game from spiraling even more out of control than it already had at that point. For all the struggles, Indiana never fell behind by more than 18, in large part thanks to Lamb’s play to end the third.
The loss drops the Pacers to 1-3 on the year as the opening schedule trudges on. Tonight’s game was the third in four nights for Indiana and will immediately bleed into another three games in four nights without an extra day off. It will begin with one of two meetings against the Toronto Raptors, opening up a two-game road trip on Wednesday.