In one of the most excruciating games of the season, the Indiana Pacers somehow managed to force overtime against the Chicago Bulls, only to summarily get blown out in overtime. It was a fate they ultimately earned through four quarters of really bad basketball, perpetually stumbling in the exact same ways all night.
It’s worth noting at the top that Doug McDermott was ruled out of the game with a sore back. That’s not to elicit sympathy or create excuses, but more to highlight just how lost the Pacers were on offense without his presence and movement. Domantas Sabonis alone suffered in part because of this, having no reliable outlet for his passing, resulting in numerous misses around the basket or in his eight turnovers.
Sabonis had one of the worst 25-point games you’ll possibly see, shooting 7-19, 17 of those shots coming at or around the basket. Thaddeus Young put in work against his former teammate, goading him into a number of charges and helping to blank him on the offensive glass, limiting any kind of headway the Pacers could make in their horrible play around the rim.
The Pacers were a staggering 20-38 at the basket tonight, a large number of those misses ending as one-and-done possessions. Indiana’s rebounding was bad all around (no surprise), but it was especially feckless on the offensive end, totaling all of two offensive boards in the first half, in which they were able to score off of both.
With no success inside, the Pacers did themselves no favors by also struggling from the three point arc. They finished 9-33, which was unfortunately pretty good considering they shot just 2-13 in the first half. All of this is to say that things were really bad, sure, but with each glance of the scoreboard, there was always an opportunity for a win.
The flow of the game followed a similar formula throughout: the Pacers would fall behind, stage a bit of a comeback, take a brief lead, then be forced to climb that hill all over again when Chicago inevitably went on some kind of run themselves. These runs seemed pretty well timed with rotations involving Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, their two-man game doing nothing for the imagination of the offense.
This was most pronounced when a Sabonis three point play put Indiana on top 70-69 late in the third. Justin Holiday had just shot Indiana back into the lead with three of his four triples, but Chicago scored the next five to go up four, then back-to-back Sabonis charges resulted in five more points to end the quarter, putting the Bulls up nine heading into the fourth. The second charge was especially egregious given Jeremy Lamb hit a three that would’ve cut it to three.
With Sabonis and Brogdon resting to start the fourth, T.J. McConnell led the Pacers back into the game, tying it up on a Lamb three when the two starters returned. To Sabonis’s credit, he worked his way to the line in the fourth, hitting all six of his attempts to keep the Pacers in the game.
Indiana took four separate leads in the final five minutes of the fourth, but failed to hold that advantage for a single possession each time. The final of those came on a Zach LaVine three right in Sabonis’s grill, putting Chicago up, eventually pushing their lead to two with 19.2 seconds remaining.
On their final possession of regulation, Brogdon ran what is one of the more encapsulating moments of the game. After receiving the ball after the inbound, he drove in, shook off a Young charge attempt, nearly fumbled it away against Garrett Temple, but recovered, and somehow got the layup to go.
While it would have been more fitting of the game had he missed, it showed how tough the offense was when run through Brogdon and Sabonis. The constant ramping up of the difficulty and somehow making it was a perfect match for all the missed gimmes. The Pacers would hold LaVine on the other end, somehow, someway, forcing overtime.
Perhaps that should be the conclusion of this recap in a desperate attempt to end on some kind of high note, but alas, there were five more minutes, and they were a really bad five minutes, in which Young continued to endear himself to two fanbases at once, the Bulls scoring on their first four possessions of overtime, all coming from some form of Young rebound.
Down seven with 41 seconds left, the Pacers took their time finding a basket, ultimately ending in a Holiday three after having exhausted the entire shot clock. It didn’t work in their favor, resulting in the eight point loss, snapping their two game winning streak and dropping them to 7-9 at home.
So how exactly did Indiana find themselves in this game after playing so poorly all night? Their defense was pretty good. Myles Turner led the charge on that end of the floor, helping to limit the Bulls to 49 first half points, getting some excellent activity from the McConnell/Aaron Holiday backcourt to create havoc.
Turner finished with six blocks to go with his 11 points, but it was an old-fashioned block party for the Pacers as a whole, finishing with 14 as a team. Sabonis had four and McConnell has two. Indiana also forced 19 Chicago turnovers, leading to 15 points off of them. Unfortunately, turnovers were also a net negative, as Indiana also committed 19, allowing 21 Chicago points, so okay.
The only true lapse in the defense came from a familiar place: rebounding. The Pacers were outrebounded 60-47, allowing 13 offensive boards, leading to 19 second chance points from the Bulls, five of those coming in overtime. The Pacers had 13, nine in the fourth quarter as they staged their comeback, leaving 41 minutes where they were trying to make the most out of one possession.
For a team that already lacks dynamic scoring without T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert, it was extensively hampered tonight without McDermott, who has been a real release with his ability to attack the basket and (hopefully) hit a timely three or two. So feel free to watch his highlights in the win over Atlanta and lament what could’ve been tonight.
Once that’s out of our system, we can look forward to a little two game road trip, first stopping off in Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. The Wolves, much like Detroit from last Thursday, will enter with the league worst record, but similar to that one, Indiana can’t afford to look past any game, especially against a team that is in the top 10 in offensive rebounding.