Goga Bitadze hit a three pointer with 10:04 remaining in the fourth, playing well early in the quarter after struggling in his minutes leading up to it. His three followed up an impressive offensive rebound, helping push the Indiana Pacers to a game high 12-point lead, leading 86-74.
To that point, the Pacers had done a tremendous job keeping the Los Angeles Lakers at arms’ length all night, building an eight-point lead after the first quarter and locking into it in the second and third despite some rough stretches. Indiana’s activity on defense helped limit the Lakers to 20 first quarter points and under 30 for each of the first three quarters.
That all came crashing down in true Pacers fashion (read: extremely fast) after LeBron James returned to the game, however. He, Montrezl Harrell, and Kyle Kuzma erased the entirety of the deficit in just three minutes. Suddenly, the game sat at 88-88 as Nate Bjorkgren tried to buy as much time for his starters as possible.
The return of the starters (sans Myles Turner) didn’t do much to stem the tide. Malcolm Brogdon hit a jumper to put Indiana ahead 90-88 only to have back-to-back Kuzma threes put the Lakers up by four, and then up by six on a James drive. Indiana cut the lead to five when the Lakers got tired of making shots, but in true Pacers fashion (read: stumbling down the stretch), they turned it over on three of their next five possessions, taking away valuable opportunities to take back control of the game.
The woes didn’t stop there, with three more misses bringing the total to five straight misses in the blistering 0-0 run. Brogdon finally broke the ice with another jumper, but the Lakers too had a response, completing a three point play from Harrell to push the lead to six. Down six, Domantas Sabonis drew a pair of fouls and went 3-4 at the line to trim the advantage to three.
After a stop, the Pacers called a timeout with 9.9 seconds remaining, giving them an opportunity to force overt—oh, wait, Brogdon just turned it over on the inbounds. Anyway...so much for that.
While Brogdon giveth and taketh away in the fourth quarter, he was still the main source of offense for the Pacers all night. Brogdon helped lift a sluggish start from both teams in Indiana’s favor, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. He finished with 29, including four huge points in the fourth to help Indiana at least stay alive for as long as possible as the Lakers ran off a game defining 22-4 run in the fourth.
Things came and went for Sabonis for much of the night as well, finishing with a 20 point, 14 rebound double double, picking up eight assists as well. Sabonis had a team high eight free throw attempts, his four late proving crucial on a night when the Lakers absolutely feasted at the line.
Los Angeles outshot the Pacers 23-5 at the line in the first half, holding serve themselves in the second half to finish with a healthy 39-21 advantage. The Pacers had done a really good job tempering the impact those free throws had, but once Kuzma and the Lakers found even the slightest hint of success from three, it was an impossible lead to maintain, especially as the field goal percentage dipped and dipped throughout the second half.
The Pacers finished with an 8-7 three point advantage, which given the circumstances of the game (54-50 loss in points in the paint, a mere one point win in points off turnovers, and a worse shooting night overall), it’s really no surprised they lost again. Brogdon was the saving grace of the three point shot early, hitting his first four attempts.
The downside to that was that Brogdon was also the only Pacer to make a three in the first half, as the rest of the team shot 0-9. There appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel when both Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott put in a pair of threes in the third, but it simply proved to be the train itself as the duo finished the game 1-5 from three.
Bjorkgren went 10-deep with the rotation tonight, which worked in his favor with a 10-point night from Aaron Holiday, going 5-8 from the floor, including some excellent plays inside as well as a well-rounded night from T.J. McConnell, scoring eight with seven rebounds. Beyond that, there wasn’t much of anything positive for the Pacers.
McConnell had three turnovers to his two assists, and the trio of Bitadze, Edmond Sumner, and Jeremy Lamb were 1-9 shooting on the night for seven points. Lamb has really hit a wall after a great start returning from injury, which is to be expected, but also puts the bench in an extremely tough position should they be expected to score points.
Lamb’s bench minutes at the four have also just been plain bad. While Bjorkgren extended the rotation, his early season decision to play both Brogdon and Sabonis heavy minutes was justified tonight when the rotations would make Sumner the primary defender for James (a matchup that, predictably, went poorly).
Though the Pacers, almost improbably, continue to lose games the exact same way every single night, there may in fact be an actual light at the end of the tunnel this time given the tremendous news of Caris LeVert making his Pacers debut tomorrow night against the Phoenix Suns.
The comeback for LeVert after kidney surgery in January is nothing short of impressive. It also couldn’t come at a better time for the Pacers as a team, who have gone 8-16 since acquiring him for Victor Oladipo. LeVert should be able to help right away, if only to make things easier for Indiana offensively even if he isn’t a big part of the offense early. At least that’s the hope.