In a masterclass of competitive losing, the Indiana Pacers continue to struggle in close games, falling late to the Denver Nuggets. The Pacers, a blight on offensive basketball for three quarters, found life on that end of the ball in the fourth quarter only to have their stalwart defense go by the wayside.
That combination made what was largely a close game all night between two scrapping teams a negative for Indiana. A quick Nuggets start, led by Will Barton, finished off with a massive fourth from Barton, who torched the Pacers all night for 30 points and six three pointers.
That kind of performance on a night when both teams were missing key scoring proved invaluable, even as Malcolm Brogdon took on Indiana’s scoring load in the fourth to at least allow them an opportunity to keep pace between Barton triples. However, if the game wasn’t lost on Denver’s 8-0 start, perhaps it was lost on Denver’s 9-0 third quarter run, holding Indiana without a field goal for over six minutes.
It also could’ve come on Indiana’s late game execution. A costly turnover, a botched defensive inbounds play, an overturned call with under a minute remaining that could’ve tied the game, it’s all in play. The Pacers were bad in a demoralizing way, where an inability to seize opportunities was on full display, any positive steps forward always being met with an extra step in the wrong direction. Whereas the Nuggets can rally behind three absent starters, the Pacers, perpetually down at least two, rarely seem to have that same spark. The absence of Caris LeVert (out with a sore lower back) was a bigger shock to Indiana’s execution than Denver playing without Nikola Jokic for the first time in two and a half calendar years.
Indiana did have some solid individual performances. All four of their double digit scorers brought some good play to the game, including a 14-point fourth quarter from Brogdon, finishing with 25. Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 19 rebounds while Myles Turner was an absolute force defensively, blocking six shots and hitting a pair of threes.
Even T.J. McConnell continued his positive play with 16 points and nine assists off the bench, going 8-11 from the floor. After that? It gets a bit harder to find much to go on. Chris Duarte scored just six, hitting a pair of timely second half threes, but really seemed to struggle with the altitude. Justin Holiday also hit a pair of threes, but was just 2-6 from deep while the second unit had just 12 points outside of McConnell.
Though there was no clear advantage for the Pacers throughout the game, especially as offense appeared foreign for the first half especially, their third quarter struggles may have again been the difference between a win and a loss. The Pacers had eight of their 15 turnovers in the third, which contributed to their nearly five minute scoring drought and Denver’s 9-0 run. The Pacers were also outscored by 10 at the free throw line, living up to their 29th ranked free throw differential and doing so against a Nuggets team that came into tonight last in the league in free throws made.
Tonight’s loss drops the Pacers to 1-2 in their West Coast swing as they search for a split tomorrow night against the Utah Jazz. Their road record (1-6) doesn’t quite jive with Utah’s home record (4-0), making it a tall order, especially as the Jazz sit idle, being one of just four teams not taking the court tonight.