Though not quite as anemic as when the Pacers scored only 10 points in the fourth quarter against the Knicks, late-game offense (and early-game turnovers) once again sunk the Pacers, who fell to the Pistons, now winners of four games on the season, 97-89 in Detroit.
Of course, in addition to only producing 10 points over the final 10:41 seconds of the game, Indiana’s start was almost as tough as their finish.
Much like the game commentary, which unfortunately was on mute courtesy of issues with my local TV provider, the Pacers got off to an equally quiet start against the Pistons in the first quarter, misfiring on eight of their first 11 shots while committing five turnovers. Trailing 11-16 with 2:27 to play in the frame, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis re-entered in tandem, spurring a modest 10-6 run, with the former contributing a pair of threes. Despite the sloppy play, Indiana still had a chance to escape with a lead when T.J. McConnell absorbed a bang-bang hit from Cory Joseph on a made basket that was originally ruled as an offensive foul, but a valuable challenge from Dwane Casey reversed the call, resulting in a three-point play and narrow one-point advantage for Detroit.
The slow start continued in the second quarter, as various hybrid units featuring Jeremy Lamb and the double-big Bitadze-Sabonis tandem struggled to make up ground. Falling behind by as many as nine, Indiana eventually tried to alter the texture of the game with McConnell and Lamb playing in a 1-3-1 zone alongside Caris LeVert, Torrey Craig, and Myles Turner, but the drawbacks to that shift in scheme soon showed up when Craig committed a foul on Isaiah Stewart at the rim, as Turner was responsible to chase out to the corner. With 3:40 to play, Myles drained a three to even the score at 41-41, but the starters never scored again, as the Pistons rattled off an 8-0 run to close the frame.
Altogether, in a half chock-full of ghastly entries to the interior and ball control ranging from loose to indecisive, Indiana went into halftime with as many turnovers (14) as made field goals (14). With Brogdon (14) outscoring the other starters in the first half (13), LeVert stepped up early in the third, tallying 12 of his 18 points, while Sabonis also bodied his way into some baskets, twisting and twirling around multiple defenders and going 3-of-5 for the frame in the wake of committing four turnovers in the first half.
Kelan Martin, who started with Chris Duarte missing a second game due to shoulder soreness, earned a key block against Jerami Grant that immediately led to points for Sabonis at the other end and knotted the game at 59 points apiece. Toward the end of the frame, however, Saddiq Bey went on a personal 8-0 run to put the Pistons ahead 72-69. After Craig scored to pull the Pacers back within a point, McConnell stole the inbounds pass and converted a quick score to regain the lead.
Bey then contributed a free throw, scoring the last nine points of the quarter for Detroit and tying the game, yet again, at 73-73. Consequently, in a departure from the norm, Indiana wasn’t outdone by what happened in the third quarter, in which the team amassed 32 points (10 above their average for the season), but rather by how they failed to be the aggressors in any of the surrounding three.
All square with one to play, Indiana went stone cold after putting the first six points on the board, tallying only a free throw from Sabonis, who went 1-of-4 at the line in the fourth, as the team came up empty from the field for over three minutes, allowing the Pistons to pull ahead 85-82 on a triple from Joseph. LeVert later answered with a step-back three of his own, but Frank Jackson quickly returned the favor, pushing Detroit’s lead back up to five. Following a mid-quarter substitution, Turner misfired on two threes, going 1-of-5 from deep for the game, before Sabonis returned, replacing the league’s leading shot-blocker in the closing lineup alongside Brogdon, LeVert, Martin, and Holiday — all of which was likely in response to the way in which Detroit pivoted to blitzing the ball and smashing down on Sabonis while ignoring McConnell and Craig on the perimeter.
With Brogdon yet again pressured, as he was in the prior game against New York and will likely become a theme, Indiana too often relied on controlled pace, with “hold-it” repeatedly being heard from the sidelines, as they went 1-of-5 from deep over the final 3:45 of the game, while spraying the ball out to shooters on an off night (9-of-37 from deep) and attempting to make plays against defense.
Meanwhile, the Pistons, who were the aggressors in three of four quarters, shot the ball just as poorly on lower volume (8-of-28), but scored 20 points off 18 turnovers and made more free throws (21) than the Pacers attempted (19), as they pushed the ball in transition.
Overall, as was the problem in Denver, when the Pacers got outplayed coming off rest by a Nuggets team that was missing three key starters, Indiana lacked focus in the beginning and juice in the end, resulting in a second-straight road loss.
Injuries matter, as Duarte’s floor spacing certainly would’ve helped against New York’s smothering pressure and Detroit’s traps, but the fact that any one key player being out continues to matter this much, particularly against a rebuilding team with a losing record, is notable for a roster that not two seasons ago managed to weaponize similar adversity while being without Victor Oladipo for much of the year.
A rematch against the Charlotte Hornets, who defeated the Pacers, 123-122, on opening night, as Indiana surrendered a 24-0 run in the third quarter.