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Comeback attempt falls short for Pacers in loss to Pelicans

Indiana opened up from three point range, erasing an 18-point deficit, before falling short in the final seconds to New Orleans. Justin Holiday had seven of Indiana’s 20 threes.

New Orleans Pelicans v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Running a bench unit with Justin Holiday for the entire fourth quarter very nearly paid off for Nate Bjorkgren and the Indiana Pacers, falling a point shy of what would have been an 18-point comeback. The Pacers outscored the New Orleans Pelicans 38-28 in the fourth, hitting 10 threes in the process, but couldn’t seal the deal thanks to some timely big plays late from the Pelicans.

The Pacers entered the fourth quarter down 11, outscoring New Orleans 12-5 to end the third. The injection of life came from Justin Holiday, who hit back-to-back threes to slice into the 18-point lead the Pelicans had methodically built, then hitting another, then capping the quarter with a buzzer-beating Plinko three from Goga Bitadze.

In the fourth, the threes continued to fall. The Pacers hit their first eight of the fourth, going ahead 105-104 on the eighth, courtesy of Holiday. Unfortunately, the Pacers would never again taste the lead, only managing to tie the game twice on a pair of Doug McDermott buckets.

The Pelicans, against the avalanche of Indiana threes, did well to just hold on, getting timely buckets from Lonzo Ball (5-9 from three) and Brandon Ingram (game high 30 points) to just keep the game out of reach. Ingram put New Orleans up four on a jumper, but the Pacers, with Turner subbing in for a disqualified Bitadze, cut the lead to one on a straight-away three pointer, the 10th of the quarter for Indiana.

The Pacers defense, spending much of the game languishing, got a big stop thanks to Aaron Holiday, who fought through a switch to force Ingram into a shot clock violation. On the final possession, the Pacers found Turner heading to the basket, but perhaps a bit gun shy due to two tough charge calls at the rim, looked to maneuver against the defending Ball, leaving a contested layup short against Ball’s recovery and verticality.

The final play was a bit of a culmination of the game as a whole, between Turner’s previous charges, Ball’s right-place-right-time type of night, what was and what wasn’t called throughout the fourth quarter, but ultimately, it resulted in a 114-113 Pelicans win, a tough loss for a Pacers team that was completely out of the game for over 33 minutes.

Those first 33 minutes were some of the least inspiring basketball of the season from the Pacers. New Orleans did a great job defensively taking away both Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon, leaving the Pacers to shrug in bewilderment. The play of both bred indecisiveness, especially to end the first half.

The Pacers, by the grace of Slick, trailed by just eight towards the end of a horrendous second quarter. Steven Adams was called for a Flagrant 1, sending Sabonis to the line. Sabonis split the trip and with possession, couldn’t find any way out of the paint, resulting in a three second violation. Ingram dunked it on the other end to give New Orleans their first double digit lead of the game.

Brogdon managed to get to the line, but also split a trip. After Bitadze had his first of four (cough) two blocks of Zion Williamson at the rim, Brogdon’s own indecisiveness resulted in a non-shot to end the half. That sent the Pacers into the locker room down 57-48, a lead that felt half as small as it should have been.

In the third, Brogdon found his shot, scoring eight in the quarter, while Sabonis simply did not, scoring a single point in the quarter as the lead slowly grew in favor of the Pelicans. Combined, the duo shot 9-28, combining for 21 points, below the averages for both. Brogdon’s third got him to 13 points, but Sabonis finished his first single-single of the year, eight and six on a dreadful 3-13 shooting.

The spark the second unit (again, plus J. Holiday) provided to end the third ensured neither player returned. That in and of itself wasn’t an issue; the bench (plus Justin!) not only hit shots, they brought life to the team when it was at the bottom of an oubliette, but it was frustrating to see the offense, so desperate for anything, not maximize the play of Jeremy Lamb.

Lamb bounced back from a poor game against Milwaukee with a near perfect one. He finished with 17 points, six rebounds, three steals, and a pair of blocks, but did so on just six shots. While Sabonis and Brogdon struggled, there was no discernible effort to feed Lamb, in part resulting in the 30-18 second quarter loss.

The success the Pacers found in the fourth was helped by that recognition. T.J. McConnell worked through some serious struggles in the third quarter to become the playmaker Indiana needed, dishing on three of Indiana’s four threes to end the third, then eight more assists in the fourth to finish with 15 in just 28 minutes. He even took a break from finding shooters to become one, hitting a crucial triple halfway through the fourth.

J. Holiday, along with McDermott, combined for 11 threes on the night, helping the Pacers to 20 in total, a new franchise record. A. Holiday got one as well, but outside of J. Holiday’s unconscious shooting spree, the play of Bitadze in the fourth was tremendous. With Sabonis having a poor night and Turner’s own three point shooting not finding much success for most of the game, Bitadze stepped up, hitting two threes in the comeback and very nearly being a defensive hero in the process.

Bitadze finished with 10 points and two (recorded) blocks, both on Williamson, before fouling out in the final seconds. Bitadze took his challenge against Williamson personally following the viral media day photo of him and Williamson, meeting him at the rim four times.

Bitadze got the raw end of two very questionable fouls (well, three) when blocking Williamson, neither of which were challenged by Bjorkgren. The decision to not challenge either was a bit of a headscratcher, but the risk/reward was perhaps a bit too high as the Pacers used their last timeout to set up the final play of the game (ignoring of course that the Pelicans would’ve had two less points had one of the plays been overturned).

In the end, it was an exciting game, just one that came up short for the Pacers, who drop to 1-4 in their last five, and 12-11 overall. None of those four losses look particularly good, however. The Pacers had leads in three of those four games, each time stumbling in the final two minutes, getting outscored 15-24 in those three tightly contested games.

The loss is also Indiana’s fourth two-game losing streak of the season. While they’ve done well to work out of it each time, it will be toughest on Sunday, when the Pacers host the top team in the NBA, the 18-5 Utah Jazz, in a 1 p.m. Eastern tipoff. The early tip didn’t help Indiana last time, but maybe it will work in their favor against a Western Conference foe.