A rocky third quarter performance flourished into a dominating fourth quarter showing for the Indiana Pacers as they pick up a win against the Houston Rockets. The Pacers outscored Houston 27-12 in the fourth, starting off 17-3 to flip the script after the Rockets had taken the lead heading into the fourth.
The Rockets had threatened all night, using a lethal amount of three pointers to keep the game within reach even as the Pacers did well to hit a fair amount of threes as a response. That changed when Caris LeVert picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter, forcing him to sit in favor of Brad Wanamaker.
The Pacers led 77-70 with LeVert on the bench when Eric Gordon and Jalen Green spurred an 8-0 Houston run that put them into the lead for the first time since the midway point of the first quarter. The Rockets led 83-81 when Rick Carlisle reinserted LeVert, immediately resulting in a bank three from Jeremy Lamb courtesy of LeVert.
Unfortunately, LeVert wasn’t the only Pacer picking up fouls, sending the Rockets to free throw line to pad their scorching shooting. D.J. Augustin extended the Houston lead to five, but LeVert was able to salvage some points heading into the fourth with a layup, though trailing 94-91 heading into the fourth is less than ideal for a Pacers team that entered tonight 0-12 when trailing after three.
Down three early in the fourth, Justin Holiday kicked off an 8-0 Pacers run that would put them up for good down the stretch. Indiana switched into a zone defensively, finally finding something on that end of the floor after struggling all night to stop the Rockets in any meaningful capacity.
The emergence of a monstrous defensive quarter from Myles Turner didn’t hurt. The big man had back-to-back blocks and even a steal, as the Pacers outscored Houston 20-3 over the middle part of the quarter to pick up their first win when trailing after the third quarter, locking in on the defensive end to guide them to the win with both Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis out tonight with injuries.
It also didn’t hurt that the Rockets missed all six of their three point attempts in the fourth after going 15-31 from the field in the first three. The Pacers meanwhile got a pair to go, finishing the night 13-38. Despite losing the free throw battle by eight, Indiana did find success all night around the basket, scoring 62 in the paint and pulling in 15 offensive boards, leading to 20 second chance points.
Without Brogdon, the Pacers leaned on LeVert to handle the point guard duties. After some less than stellar stretches in earlier games, he took the challenge to heart tonight, dishing seven first quarter assists as the Pacers piled on 36 to open the game. He finished with 11 on the night, promoting ball movement to the tune of 27 team assists. LeVert also scored 24, 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter.
This was probably LeVert’s best game as a Pacer overall, especially when seeing just how far the dropoff was with Wanamaker in the game. The third quarter stretch with Wanamaker as the primary ball handler completely stalled the offense, so much so that before Carlisle put the foul-troubled LeVert back in the game, he was running the offense through Lamb.
The end result with Lamb as the point guard did yield positive results. He finished with 16 points (even if most of those were assisted on) and finished with a bench high five dimes. The Pacers also got 14 extra points from both Torrey Craig and Goga Bitadze, picking up extra minutes with the injuries.
Craig hit a pair of threes and Bitadze had a nice four-point play of sorts when he was fouled on a putback, missed the free throw, and scored on another putback, giving the Pacers their first double figure lead of the game at that point. Oshae Brissett was moved into the starting lineup, scoring six with seven rebounds and a block, fitting in well as an energy guy with Turner. Holiday meanwhile scored eight, hitting a pair of threes.
Chris Duarte provided the Pacers a solid scoring boost as well, finishing with 18 points on 7-15 shooting. The downside is that he was just 3-11 from deep, including a number of adventurous attempts from the rookie. Though he did find himself in a number of questionable offensive situations, it wasn’t completely self-inflicted, and he did take the challenge of playing against fellow rook Jalen Green to heart even if Green had himself a night from deep (6-9 for 20 points).
The Pacers were led in scoring tonight by Turner, finishing with a game high 32 points and 10 rebounds. His defense late was big in steering the Pacers into the win column, but his ability to attack the smaller Houston interior defense proved just as valuable throughout the game as the Pacers were forced to put points on the board. Turner shot 14-18 from the floor, taking just two shots from deep and one extra shot outside of the paint. It was a night the Pacers needed someone to step up and Turner answered that call and more.
The win is probably a bit of a shrug in the grand scheme of things. It was a win the Pacers really should’ve gotten regardless of who was or wasn’t in the game. The energy, especially on the offensive end, was much better than on Tuesday, and even ignoring the quality of opponent (though to be fair, Houston has been winning a lot of games of late), it was a nice treat before Christmas to see them close out the game with a purpose.
The Pacers will be back in action on Sunday night when they hit the road to face the Chicago Bulls. The home/away splits have not been kind to the road Pacers in recent games, though they did manage to post their best road performance of the year on these Bulls.