While the Indiana Pacers made things harder than need be in closing out a win over the Detroit Pistons, at least they got there courtesy of a highlight step back three from Caris LeVert. LeVert drilled the game-ender with 4.7 seconds on the clock, halting what was, to that point, a furious surge from the Pistons.
LeVert hit a three with just under four minutes to go to put the Pacers up nine, a lead matched by a Domantas Sabonis hook shot 50 seconds later, but it would prove the final points the Pacers would score until the LeVert dagger. Detroit meanwhile scored seven straight to bring the game to two with a minute remaining.
After a costly Sabonis turnover, the Pistons had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. Delon Wright drove on Myles Turner, who contested the drive with precision. Turner forced Wright to come down with the ball going out of bounds, forcing a traveling violation and getting the ball back to Indiana with under 30 seconds left for the win.
That sort of flow; going up by around double figures and then suddenly finding it a game again was a far too common theme throughout the second half for Indiana. Their struggles early in the game, including nine straight misses from three point range to start the game, put them in an early hole, trailing 24-21 after one. Edmond Sumner cut it to three with Indiana’s first three pointer of the night with 2.5 seconds left in the quarter.
Solid minutes offensively from Goga Bitadze helped give the Pacers a brief lead in the second, but their inability to string together stops allowed the Pistons to go back up by as many as six. LeVert then switched up the flow, first assisting on a Jeremy Lamb three, then scoring seven, then assisting on two more Pacer buckets to help keep pace against Detroit’s offense.
Malcolm Brogdon twice broke a tie, scoring seven straight of his own to eventually push the Pacers up by five. LeVert scored eight more late in the quarter, getting the Pacers a 57-51 lead at the break. Indiana appeared in control early in the third when they finally got the game to double figures, but Jeremi Grant’s activity on both ends disrupted the flow the Pacers had, allowing Detroit to tie the game on a 13-3 run.
It would be a bit of a rinse and repeat cycle for the Pacers after that, missing opportunities to blow the game wide open, leaving the Pistons every opportunity to bust through whatever lead Indiana had built. This finally came back on the Pacers in full effect when Wayne Ellington keyed a 16-4 Pistons run that put them ahead 96-94 with 7:30 left.
At that point, Sumner stepped up and lifted the Pacers back into the lead, scoring 10 straight Pacers points, including back-to-back threes, putting Indiana ahead 102-98 at the halfway mark of the third, then dished on a pair of buckets to LeVert and Sabonis to make it a six-point lead.
It was all good for Sumner in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 18 in the final period. His back-to-back threes to cap his scoring were huge to see, but his quickness opened up a lot, especially as he became a playmaker immediately after. Instead of challenging two Pistons on the fast break here, which he probably could have, he opted to find the trailing LeVert for a much easier two.
LeVert finished with a game high 28, scoring 16 of his 18 first half points in the second quarter. LeVert spent much more time tonight as the primary ball handler, flashing his isolation abilities and dishing four assists. He shot 10-19 from the floor while leading the team with six free throws.
There seemed to be a much bigger focus on the wings and backcourt tonight than up front. LeVert’s 19 attempts were a team high, while Brogdon was second with 14 shots (scoring 16). Sabonis finished with 14 points on 5-13 shooting (and 11 rebounds) but it was Turner that was completely left out of the offense with just four attempts (going 0-4).
With a capable, volume level scorer returning to the starting lineup for the Pacers, it may again be an adjustment for Turner’s role in the offense, though he did block three shots and pull in five boards in his time on the floor. Bitadze meanwhile had a solid night off the bench, scoring nine (including a three!) in his 11 minutes. Bitadze spoke afterwards to more time equaling more comfort, and it’s really shown from some of the stretches of complete bewilderment earlier this season and last. Justin Holiday joined the double figure scorers with 14, hitting a pair of threes.
The minutes rotation on the eve of the trade deadline was a bit interesting, perhaps not so much with Aaron Holiday being out of the rotation so much as Doug McDermott and Lamb playing well below their season average in minutes (-16 combined). With Indiana being heavily a part of the trade deadline rumors, those minutes could be something just as much as they could ultimately be nothing more than precautionary leading up to tomorrow afternoon’s deadline.
What the Pacers look like this time tomorrow is unknown, though recent history suggests it may not look any different at all. Regardless, the Pacers picked up a home win (their first in nearly two months, though they’ve played almost three times as many road games in that stretch) just in time to head back out on the road for two more, starting with the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.