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Late game execution again dooms Pacers in overtime loss to Lakers

Chris Duarte forced overtime, but it wasn’t enough to shift momentum in Indiana’s favor after floundering late in the fourth, losing 124-116 to Los Angeles.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Late game execution once again eluded the Indiana Pacers in their latest heartbreaking loss, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers despite leading for nearly the entire way. Things got so bad late for Indiana that they needed a corner prayer from Chris Duarte to even force overtime, an extra period that also didn’t go well for the struggling blue and gold.

Duarte would score just past the halfway mark of the fourth quarter to put the Pacers ahead 100-96, a steady response to a Lakers surge to end the third and open the fourth. A turnover and two missed layups later and the Lakers made it a one possession game. One more miss allowed Los Angeles to take their first lead with 4:35 remaining, setting up a heated finish.

In the wild five minute stretch, Indiana missed 11 straight shots and turned it over three times, but through an ability to get to the line, minimized the damage inflicted by LeBron James flopping to trail by four. A pair of offensive rebounds eventually found Justin Holiday in the corner to break the drought and cut the lead to one with 27 seconds left.

After a pair of Russell Westbrook threes, the Pacers would bring it up full court for their final possession, finally settling on a falling Duarte attempt in the corner to somehow tie it up and force overtime.

The league’s two-minute report may ultimately decide this should have been called a foul, but with no call on the floor, the Pacers went into overtime continuing to be confounded by shot making. They shot a dreadful 2-11 in the free period while James put the game away with eight straight points to drop the Pacers 124-116.

It was a tough go for Indiana in the second half after an impressive first half. The Pacers led 66-60 at the break, but it was a lead that should’ve been larger had it not been for a considerable number of missed three pointers from the Pacers. The three point shot would ultimately be what put the Pacers on top at halftime, but outside of Malcolm Brogdon, Duarte, and Holiday, the shooting just never came around, haunting the Pacers late.

Indiana was outscored 64-50 in the second half, watching their over 50% shooting in the first half yanked down to just 40.4% for the game. They were also 13-46 from three, 12-32 from the aforementioned trio. Despite forcing turnovers early, a failure to capitalize also limited how far Indiana could stretch their first half lead, totaling just eight for the game.

All of this three point shooting set up the Lakers in the first half for a sizeable free throw advantage, one the Pacers would trim down, but still lose by six. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner were also victims of the shooting, becoming afterthoughts within the offense, taking the fewest shots of the starters and almost fewer than Duarte alone took off the bench. Sabonis did lead the way with six assists, finishing with 14 points and 12 boards.

Some of the lack of looks from the bigs came down to some black hole play from Caris LeVert, who again started strong, but struggled with consistent shot making later one, passing up any kind of pass for tough looks that (surprisingly?) didn’t go. Foul trouble also had a hand in it, with Sabonis eventually sitting with three first half violations.

The offensive play late really took away from what was otherwise a solid stretch of basketball on the defensive end. Sabonis in particular did a fantastic job forcing a pair of James misses with Myles Turner on the bench, giving Indiana chance after chance to get back into the game on the other end.

Though many of the struggles from the Pacers late were self-inflicted, they weren’t much better off in some judgment calls. Sabonis was met with an inadvertent elbow from Dwight Howard in the first half, leading to a bloody nose that was ruled a common foul. When Sabonis’s inadvertent swipe with two minutes left in the fourth against James gave the Space Jam star a chance to flex his acting muscles, it was two shots and the ball for Los Angeles, almost serving as make up call after Westbrook was called for his own flagrant against Sabonis two minutes earlier.

The loss halts Indiana’s latest winning “streak” at two games, matching their season high for a third time. They fall to 8-12 overall, still struggling to find traction in the standings despite another (mostly) strong outing. The close games things is especially troubling with Indiana dropping to 2-10 in games decided by less than 10 points, answering why it is they’re one of two teams with a positive point differential to be under .500.

The only other team that knows this level of early season pain is Indiana’s next opponent, the Toronto Raptors. The Pacers will match up with the Raptors for a third time this year after having lost both matchups earlier in the year, the Pacers desperately needing a bounce back to salvage the season head-to-head.

The Friday night tip will come after the lighting of the downtown Christmas tree, hopefully instilling enough Holiday spirit in the Pacers to close out a much needed win at home.