The losses continue to pile up for the Indiana Pacers, dropping their fourth straight against the Toronto Raptors. The Pacers played much better tonight against Toronto than the disastrous showing on Wednesday, but the result ended the same with the Pacers struggling offensively all night and coming up short as a result.
It was a classic “second night of a back-to-back” game for both teams, with almost all of the activity coming on the defensive end. The Pacers were spot on defensively, holding the Raptors to 42% shooting, blocking 10 shots, and forcing 18 turnovers that they turned into 21 points. The issues came on the other end, where they ended up committing 20, allowing 28 points off of turnovers, and had 11 fewer shot attempts in a game they needed every attempt they could get.
On the bright side, there may be light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Caris LeVert, who made his season debut tonight. In 16 minutes, he electrified the Pacers on both ends, scoring 15 and helping the offense to life, with passing resulting in a number of easier looks for Domantas Sabonis in particular than was even thought possible just three days ago.
LeVert scored seven of Indiana’s first nine, helping them to a three-point lead at the end of one. He would push it to as many as seven to open the second, but a monster quarter from Svi Mykhailiuk accelerated Toronto’s chances in the game, closing the gap in a hurry. The Pacers led 46-44 when LeVert left the game late in the second, the score shifting every so slightly for the 47-46 Pacers lead at the break.
On a minute’s restriction tonight, LeVert did not play the second half, and his absence reverberated throughout the Indiana offense. Everything became infinitely more difficult for the Pacers in the third, just in time for OG Anunoby to awaken from his first half slumber to push the Raptors into the lead.
Though the Pacers would only match their season average of 19 points in the third, losing by two, they did well to not allow the Raptors to do anything more than go ahead by three in the quarter. That would change early in the fourth on a 6-0 Toronto run led by Mykhailiuk, giving Toronto a seven point advantage.
It was a long comeback road for the Pacers, who just could not string together buckets. Down seven, the Pacers failed to convert on consecutive possessions for over four minutes, giving Toronto just enough wiggle room to keep the game at arms’ length. Even when they finally did convert on two straight plays, Toronto was locked and loaded with a perfectly timed response to erase all of Indiana’s progress.
After that...well...let’s just let the play-by-play explain:
VanVleet’s dagger three, a logo heave with the shot clock winding down, came after he had lost the ball and nearly turned it over. That alone is difficult to have happen, but what this whole stretch illustrates is just how razor thin Indiana’s margin for error is without someone like LeVert in the game to make something, anything easier.
The Pacers, to their credit, would make it interesting in the final minute, five straight points cutting the lead to three with 27 seconds remaining. After fouling VanVleet and escaping with a split trip, Sabonis cut the lead to one with a three of his own. Scottie Barnes would overcome a rough night at the line to hit both. Sabonis missed the game tying three point attempt, dropping the Pacers into the cellar of the East.
Losing is no fun, but it wasn’t a complete wash for the Pacers, who did play much better tonight overall. The defensive effort was fantastic. Myles Turner was on point, blocking five shots as Rick Carlisle deployed a double big lineup with Goga Bitadze for much of the night, Bitadze blocking two shots himself.
On the other end, the offense sputtered in the second half, but the ball movement was much more active tonight, especially when compared to Wednesday’s loss in Toronto. The Pacers had 25 assists, their highest since the opening two games, with T.J. McConnell and Chris Duarte each moving the ball well for 13 combined assists.
Getting the ball to Sabonis without requiring him to do too much work against Toronto’s defense allowed him to score 22 points and pull in 14 rebounds, six on the offensive glass. He would struggle from three, however, going 1-7, five of those attempts coming in the second half without LeVert’s in the game as Indiana couldn’t get the same tricks to work.
Off the bench, Justin Holiday led the way with 16, but struggled overall at 6-15 shooting (4-13 from three). Jeremy Lamb followed with 11 on 3-5 shooting from three, but beyond that, it was a scoring desert, with two points from Oshae Brissett providing a small oasis. Outside of Holiday and Lamb, the bench shot a combined 1-10.
The Pacers now sit at 1-6, which drops them to dead last in the Eastern Conference. While tied with Orlando, the Magic can boast one less conference loss than Indiana at the moment. It’ll be a tough road to climb back into the thick of the East at the moment, but the return of LeVert offered up a glimpse at positives to come, assuming guys can get healthy and stay healthy.
Indiana’s best chance at a win in the next two and a half weeks will come on Monday night when they host the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, at 2-4, are the only under .500 team the Pacers will play in their next eight games that features a Western road trip and an aggregate record of 27-11. While the Pacers probably won’t lose all of those games (one can hope), wins may still be scarce in the interim, making Monday’s game a key one.