The losses continue to pile up for the Indiana Pacers in endlessly excruciating ways, extending tonight to a close home loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers struggled to get stops all night, but still put themselves in position to win late, when a mishandled dribble by Trae Young wound up in the hands of Chris Duarte.
Duarte raced towards the rim in transition down one, but a no call against Kevin Huerter as he pulled on Duarte’s jersey at the basket forced the miss, allowing the Hawks to exhale and walk away with the three-point victory. The lack of call against the rookie (which will likely be rectified by the league’s two-minute report tomorrow) may have very well kept Indiana out of the win column for a second time in the last week, but having to rely on officials for wins will almost always result in a loss, and the Pacers earned it well tonight.
The Pacers started well, jumping out to a 27-23 advantage in the first quarter, but allowed the Hawks to close the first quarter on a 15-2 run. The Pacers fought back in the second quarter, but were never able to take the lead despite tying or drawing to within a point on four separate occasions.
Atlanta once again closed a quarter with a purpose, outscoring the Pacers 12-4 after Indiana had tied the game at 53-53 with just over 3:30 remaining in the half. Atlanta pushed their lead out to 12 early in the third quarter when a fantastic stretch from Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon brought the Pacers all the way back, giving them a 77-76 lead with four minutes in the third.
The lead swelled as high as five, but back-to-back threes from Danilo Gallinari erased it in an instant. Oshae Brissett would put the Pacers back on top with his own three, however, giving them an 88-87 advantage heading into the fourth. The Hawks struck first on another Gallinari triple, kicking off a 10-4 run that gave Atlanta a five-point edge.
The Pacers would chase that deficit the rest of the night. A combination of poor shot making and badly timed inability to get stops favored Atlanta despite Indiana closing the gap to a single possession six different times down the stretch. The last of those came in the closing seconds, when Jeremy Lamb rattled in a big time three pointer with 30 seconds left, making it a 112-111 Atlanta lead before the Young turnover and Duarte no call.
Indiana fell on the wrong side of the most important stat in the league tonight, giving up 16 three pointers to the Hawks, who hit eight of their first nine. Indiana finished with 10, shooting a touch over 30% in the process, but that number proved too much of a disadvantage, especially when Indiana’s 11-point second chance advantage turned into 10 on a pair of late Hawks putbacks, doubling as their only second chance points of the night.
Giving up those second chance points after an entire game of allowing nothing just goes to show how thin Indiana’s margin for error has and continues to be as they lose their sixth straight single digit game. Water may find its level in that regard, but they’re running out of time to stay afloat in a competitive East, where they’re already 3.5 games out of the play-in.
Individually, the Pacers were led by Brogdon with 27 points and nine assists. He, Turner, and Domantas Sabonis all played well, combining for just over half of Indiana’s points, all coming up big throughout the night to help Indiana stay alive despite their defensive struggles.
Sabonis had 22 points and 10 rebounds, going 9-10 from the floor, hitting both of his threes. Turner made three triples himself, blocking two shots and finishing with 17 & 9 himself. Duarte returned to the startling lineup with Justin Holiday set to miss time with the health and safety protocol, scoring 11.
Unfortunately, the Pacers weren’t able to get the same kinds of contributions from Caris LeVert, who struggled throughout the night. He scored a few points late, but finished the night with just six, going 3-12 from the floor and 0-4 from deep. He had four assists, but it was tough sledding for LeVert all night.
The Pacers also got more bad news with T.J. McConnell leaving the game early with a sore right wrist. McConnell and Holiday’s absences, along with some soul searching from Rick Carlisle in terms of his rotations gave extra minutes for Brad Wanamaker, Brissett, and Lamb. All three responded positively, combining for 26 of Indiana’s 28 bench points. Lamb led the way with 11 and five rebounds. Brissett had eight and four, hitting a pair of triples and two steals while Wanamaker scored seven, dishing four assists.
This six-game homestand wasn’t going to be easy, but it was going to be a fair test in whether they could find any kind of lasting success. That may yet happen later on in this stretch of games, but it came up short tonight. With Golden State looming at the end of it like a final boss, they absolutely have to start picking up wins immediately to give themselves a chance of working back into the play-in picture at the very least.
Indiana will have an opportunity to do just that when the Miami Heat come to town, who will be without Bam Adebayo for 4-6 weeks as he recovers from right thumb surgery. Though Miami lost big tonight to Cleveland, the Pacers haven’t exactly capitalized on opposing player absences, making the Friday night matchup a challenging one.