The unusual afternoon start time led to an all too familiar outcome for the Pacers on Friday, as a 13-point halftime lead fueled by high-powered scoring turned into a 119-111 loss to the Utah Jazz as a result of anemic, late-game offense.
After starting the game just 4-of-11 from the field, Indiana made seven of their next 10, jumping out to an eight-point lead by the end of the first frame, as the team dressed in blue-and-gold outscored the Jazz 12-0 in fast break points without committing a single turnover.
Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis paced the team early, notching twelve points a piece on 16 combined shots, with the Pacers running most of the action at Rudy Gobert without necessarily engaging his length. Sabonis drew a foul against the towering big man near the basket on the first possession. From there, however, Indiana dominated with quick hitters, using hand-offs and ball screens to attack the space ceded to them by Gobert’s deep drop while also hunting run-outs at the rim in transition.
The good times continued to roll for the bench in the second quarter. With Jeremy Lamb, Goga Bitadze, T.J. McConnell, Oshae Brissett and Aaron Holiday combining for 25 first-half points, the reserves extended the lead to 15 with 5:40 to play, giving Brogdon and Sabonis ample rest after both played the game’s first twelves minutes. Goga hit two threes over that stretch and Brissett continued to take advantage of his opportunity for playing time, face-cutting to the basket for an easy two and attacking old friend Georges Niang to earn a trip to the line.
Staring at a 17-point deficit with most of the starters back on the floor, Donovan Mitchell proceeded to go into takeover mode, scoring 12 points in a little over three minutes to trim the lead to seven. In response, Malcolm Brogdon drilled a three with 4.7 seconds to play, just before Caris LeVert stole the ball from Royce O’Neal and added yet another triple, pushing the lead back up to 13 at 69-56 headed into halftime.
After hitting on just 5 of their first 16 threes, Utah started the third quarter on a 9-2 run capped by a pull-up triple from Mitchell, who shortly thereafter turned his ankle at the 8:18 mark, requiring help from his teammates to leave the court.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, Mitchell’s teammates also proceeded to help him on the court, outscoring Indiana 33-20 in the quarter, thanks to hot shooting from deep (7-of-14) as well as a couple of dunks from Gobert and several timely buckets from usual Pacers killer Jordan Clarkson (nine points). Offensively, Indiana struggled to answer from outside, shooting just 3-of-9 on threes, but also went away from the formula that worked over the game’s first two quarters. On one possession, Sabonis challenged Gobert at the rim, and although he appeared to take a knee to the groin, the block turned into a quick three for Joe Ingles at the other end. A few minutes later, Aaron Holiday drove recklessly into the defense and shot the ball off the backboard, resulting in a transition three for Georges Niang.
Overall, it was a rough afternoon for the Holiday brothers, as the pair combined to go 4-of-18 from the field, with Aaron forcing the action at the rim and Justin continuing to struggle from deep (1-of-6), while also bobbling a pass on a wide open basket cut.
Nevertheless, with the score even at 89-89 at the start of the fourth, the bench, also joined eventually by Caris LeVert, kept things close until Brogdon and Sabonis returned with 7:05 to play, but scoring became a slog, as Indiana’s point total remained stuck at 99 until LeVert drained an and-one, step-back three nearly four minutes later, answering a 10-0 run from Utah.
Trailing 108-102, LeVert converted two more shots and Sabonis got to the line for a pair of freebies, but Indiana was forced to play the free throw game late to keep even a shred of hope alive, as Gobert got loose for a lob and tallied a tip-in, adding to his massive total of rebounds on the afternoon (23).
For the frame, Indiana scored 22 points on 28 percent shooting, settling for early, no-pass outside shots that didn’t fall — rather than working the offense to find the cracks that Rudy Gobert’s anti-gravity allowed for in the first half. At the other end of the floor, with Utah tallying 63 points in the second-half, taking the ball out of the rim put a halt to Indiana’s ability to score with numbers, as the team tallied only two more fast break points for the game after putting up 12 in the first quarter.
In the end, despite falling behind by double-figures, Utah was able to move to a league-best 26-3 at home, snapping Indiana’s four-game win-streak on the road.
The loss moves the Pacers to 26-29 on the season, holding them at ninth-place in the East, with a 3.5 game lead on the Chicago Bulls, who are expected to be without All-Star Zach LaVine for a time due to health and safety protocols.
A Nate vs. Nate face-off, as the Pacers closeout the three-game road trip on Sunday against the Hawks, when hopefully Myles Turner’s rim protection, allowing the team to be more aggressive around the arc, and Doug McDermott’s off-ball spacing will be able to return to the lineup.