Entering the All-Star Break on a loss isn’t ideal, but it wasn’t a complete wash for the Indiana Pacers, who at least had some notable stretches tonight against the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets, a vastly superior team, made this a “take care of business” game in the second half, effectively shutting out the Pacers late in the third quarter to cruise to the win.
The Nuggets use a 14-2 run in the third quarter to break a 68-68 tie, eventually going up by as many as 18 in the fourth. Indiana cut that in half, but by that point there was less than a minute in the game, resulting in their fifth straight home loss on the season. Their play last night was overall much worse, but the difference in quality of opponent made up the rest.
Outside of the 9-0 run the Pacers used early in the third quarter to tie the game at 68-68 on a Justin Holiday three, they also had a 26-8 run in the first quarter that flipped an 11-point deficit into an eight-point lead, but when the Nuggets closed the gap to one to end the first, it was clear it was going to take an extra gear for them to keep pace.
They didn’t activate said gear in the second, eventually losing the quarter 33-23, falling behind by nine at the half. Myles Turner did his best to keep the game close, scoring 17 points with seven rebounds in the first half, but there wasn’t much else as the teams diverged overall in three point makes.
There wasn’t a particular area in which the Pacers outclassed Denver enough to overcome their second quarter struggles. While they doubled the Nuggets up in steals 12-6 and won the turnover battle, they were still outscored 26-18 in points off turnovers, a far cry from the massive positive Indiana had last night against Cleveland.
The Nuggets also shot 58% for the game, giving 20-point nights to each of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr. It’s also somewhat fitting Indiana’s slow start, falling behind 13-2 to open the game, was fueled by Will Barton who had 16. Those were, somewhat shockingly, the only double digit scorers for a Nuggets team playing short-handed, but the extra gear was missing for the Pacers to challenge the Nuggets despite having six double figure scorers.
Turner finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, picking up three second half blocks. He also shot the ball extremely well, going 3-6 from deep and finishing 9-14 for the game. Jokic eventually got the better of the matchup late, but Turner also did a solid job against him for a good portion of the game, limiting his effectiveness scoring until the exact point when Denver blew the game wide open.
Doug McDermott and J. Holiday also shot the ball extremely well, going 8-15 from deep. McDermott had 20 and Holiday had 16, which would be ideal in a scenario where they had gotten a big night from either Domantas Sabonis or Malcolm Brogdon. Unfortunately, neither happened. The duo shot just 9-29 from the floor, finishing with 20 points. Both were turned into playmakers fairly early on, a role that really made the most out of Sabonis’s poor shooting night.
Sabonis finished with 10 assists, making some excellent plays with the ball to open up things for his teammates. That is to say, while it wasn’t good enough of a performance for what the Pacers need right now, it can maybe be enough, eventually, sometime in the hopefully not-so-distant future? Shots didn’t fall, but this was one of the best overall performances from Sabonis in a good while.
Ultimately, the matchup was just too big of a chasm for this Pacers team to overcome. They’re simply not equipped to succeed on a few solid stretches against elite competition, which is probably going to be a huge problem out of the All-Star Break given they only play elite competition for the next seven games.
That will start next Friday when the Pacers head out west to face the Los Angeles Lakers, but in the meantime, it will be a busy All-Star Sunday for Sabonis, who will play with Team LeBron in the All-Star Game after taking part in the Skills Challenge earlier in the evening.
Rookie Cassius Stanley will also be a part of the festivities, soaring into the dunk contest at halftime.