Yet another avoidable loss was on tap for the Indiana Pacers tonight, losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road thanks as always to insufferable second half execution. The Pacers were outscored 30-19 in the third quarter, eventually getting outscored 42-24 in the half, falling behind by nine before getting it together enough to make it a game late.
The Pacers used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to three with four minutes remaining, but missed shots (including a Justin Holiday three that was so far down into the cylinder before hopping out, it should have counted out of pity) gave Minnesota just enough breathing room to come up with a response.
Late fouls for the Wolves would eventually allow Domantas Sabonis to tie up the game at 94-94 with just over a minute to go, but Indiana would fail to recover a missed three from Josh Okogie, setting up Malik Beasley for the go-ahead triple in the corner. A poorly executed isolation play to respond sent Minnesota the other way to ultimately seal the game at the line.
It was the kind of finish the Pacers have had all year and yet never seem to get any better at not having happen. As Tony East shared, the Pacers have lost seven games already by four points or less (and overtime). That number swells to 10 when including games that were well within reach late before careening out of sight by the final buzzer.
It’s really a shame about everything after halftime when the Pacers consistently set themselves up for success in the first half, tonight included. Indiana used a 12-0 run midway through the first quarter to take the lead, even making it through some rough bench minutes in the second to close the half on a 20-8 run to lead by nine.
Sabonis led the way for the Pacers with Myles Turner missing action with a non-COVID illness, pulling in 15 rebounds, completing an and-one to open the third quarter, putting Indiana ahead 60-48. A fourth foul on Sabonis halfway through the quarter was all Minnesota needed to flip the script, outscoring Indiana 11-5 to take their first lead of the half.
Malcolm Brogdon’s ability to get to the line allowed the Pacers to stay afloat despite some terrible shooting and offensive execution, but a late three-point lead turned into a two-point deficit thanks to some big plays to end the quarter by Anthony Edwards, scoring five with a steal to give the Timberwolves a 78-76 lead.
In the meantime, Chris Duarte was especially miffed heading into the fourth after getting the rookie treatment on a pair of plays at the end of the quarter. After a third such play, Duarte had some words for the officials, getting T’d up before kindly showing the officials where he felt he had been fouled, prompting the second technical and ejection.
Minnesota made both of their free throws and hit another bucket to push their lead to five. Somewhere after all of this, both Rick Carlisle and T.J. McConnell drew technical fouls of their own, giving the Wolves another free point as they marched towards their nine point lead.
At that point, the Pacers methodically dipped into the lead, taking advantage of some curious plays from Karl-Anthony Towns hunting fouls to eventually make it a three point game. From there, Holiday’s three somehow popped out and the rest went how it went, resulting in a two-point loss, dropping Indiana to 3-10 on the road.
Sabonis finished the night with 16 points, 25 rebounds, and 10 assists, but wasn’t enough of a focus within the offense. Four of Sabonis’s 12 shots were outside of the three point arc. None of them had much of a chance of going in, ultimately resulting in a 46-42 loss in points in the paint.
Sabonis did a great job throughout the night just keeping the Pacers in it, going 6-7 from the free throw line and working through nearly fouling out (and taking an inadvertent elbow to the temple from Towns, only resulting in a common foul). His 10 assists were a boost as well, especially as Indiana’s ball movement dried up in the second half. Indiana had 18 assists in the first half, but just nine after the break.
Twelve of those 18 came in the second quarter, when the Pacers also excelled on the glass. One of their biggest struggles heading into that quarter was in allowing offensive rebounds and second chance points to the Timberwolves, allowing zero such points in the quarter. Unfortunately, Minnesota would come out on top in the end in second chance points, outscoring the Pacers 16-12 despite notching identical numbers in rebounding.
Brogdon finished with a team high 25 and Justin Holiday scored 15. The two combined for five made threes, a much needed total given the team’s dreadful 9-37 shooting. Caris LeVert was just 1-7 himself, 3-14 for the game, scoring nine and McConnell missed a corner three late along with Sabonis’s 0-4 outing.
The second unit as a whole didn’t provide much more of a deep threat spark. Kelan Martin’s shot was everywhere tonight. He finished with eight, but was 0-4 from deep. Isaiah Jackson got a brief run in the second quarter, but they were undoubtedly rookie minutes through and through. Goga Bitadze didn’t provide much more of a boost when he took over in the third, finishing with a point and a block, struggling to contain Towns and the Wolves.
The brightest spot off the bench was Duarte. It was a smooth outing for the other rookie, who had 14 points and was a steady 3-5 from three point range. That made his ejection that much tougher to take down the stretch, especially after he had just hit a three prior to bring Indiana to within one.
From here, the Pacers will enter a sort of do-or-die stretch here in the next two weeks, hosting the next six games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse with two extra days off in that time. Though Indiana isn’t exactly getting a break in terms of quality of opponent (all six teams have a winning record), the first five opponents are all teams the Pacers should (at least theoretically) be on the same tier as. That starts with the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, a team that started slow but been able to turn a corner of late, winning seven straight before a loss on Saturday.