The Indiana Pacers continued their Win’s a Win Tour tonight, holding on late to top the Orlando Magic for their second straight W. The Pacers separated themselves in the second quarter, but nearly gave it away in the third and later in the fourth after they had found their footing.
Despite a strong opening from Edmond Sumner (eight of Indiana’s first 11 points), the Pacers weren’t able to capitalize on the scoreboard, going back and forth with the Magic for much of the first quarter. Mo Bamba in particular caused issues for a bit of a short-handed Pacers front line, putting Goga Bitadze quickly in foul trouble in spell of a returning Domantas Sabonis.
Bamba put Orlando ahead 28-27 in the closing seconds of the first when Aaron Holiday responded with two threes to close the period, putting Indiana ahead 33-30 on a buzzer-beating banked three.
The Pacers, forever forced to contend with the inevitability of Terrence Ross, struggled to build on those shots early in the second quarter, trading baskets until Bamba came down with a sore hip, leaving the game. The Pacers capitalized on his time off the floor, using a 16-5 run to push their lead to double figures as Holiday continued to connect on threes, totaling up four in the half.
Leading 57-47 with 4:41 in the half, the game suddenly ground to a halt, going scoreless for both teams for nearly three minutes. Justin Holiday broke up the scoreless affair with his first three, breathing enough life into the Pacers for them to close the half up 15...at least until Malcom Brogdon fouled Bamba with 1.7 seconds to give him a pair of free throws.
That wouldn’t haunt the Pacers too much, as they more or less held serve through the first few minutes of the third, leading 72-57 with 8:46 remaining. Once again, however, the offense began to bog down in a serious way, leading to another lengthy scoring drought, this time of over four minutes, allowing the Magic to slowly chip away at the lead with a glacial 10-0 run to cut it to five.
After making it a three point game with under three minutes in the quarter, Bitadze followed a Brogdon miss and T.J. McConnell scored off a open court steal to give the Pacers four much needed points...that they almost immediately gave back up on a Gary Harris three point play.
It was tough going for Indiana in the quarter, finishing 8-24, and 1-7 from three point range, their lone make a Bitadze number in the final minute that pushed the lead to five. A. Holiday again stepped up once in the fourth, hitting a three to give Indiana an eight-point cushion and another soon after as they would again match their game high 15-point lead with 6:41 remaining.
A third scoring drought (a mere two and a half minutes) would again create daylight for an Orlando comeback, as Ross led the charge in slowly inching them back into the game, two big time dunks drawing the game to within four at 108-104 with 54 seconds remaining. After a Pacers miss, Ross had an opportunity to make it a one possession game, but mercifully shot long, missing everything, allowing the Pacers to ice the game at the line for the hard fought win.
The Pacers finished the night shooting just 41.3%, their worst since their March 31 loss to Miami. It was just the second win of the season for Indiana when shooting under 43%, aided in a big way by A. Holiday, who finished with a team high 20, going 6-10 from three point range on a night the Pacers as a team had just 11.
Holiday’s decisiveness was on full display tonight, helping to put in timely shots throughout the game, bailing out an otherwise lethargic offense run by the returning and somewhat rusty Brogdon and an occasionally ineffective McConnell. Brogdon, along with Sabonis, were part of the reason the offensive numbers were so touch and go, combining for 7-26 in their return to action.
Brogdon was 0-5 from three while Sabonis was just 3-12 overall, including 2-8 at the rim. While Brogdon’s struggles were more pronounced, especially in the third quarter, Sabonis was able to mask his poor shooting and turnovers (four) with steady trips to the line (9-12) and one of his best defensive performances of the year.
Sabonis was officially logged for two blocks, but affected at least six different possessions throughout the game in limiting Orlando to just 42.2% shooting themselves.
Their ability to get to double figures did help get some scoring for an otherwise lackluster showing offensively from the bulk of the Pacers. Doug McDermott did score well, finishing with 19 on 8-13 shooting, returning to his menacing play around the rim and Edmond Sumner had 12, though he didn’t score in the second half even after some excellent takes at the rim.
The difference on the scoreboard came entirely from three pointers, as Indiana hit 11 vs. Orlando’s six. The Pacers also topped the Magic 14-5 in fast break points, a total that was a bit lower than expected given some missed opportunities to quick transition recovers from Orlando.
The Pacers picked up a win in the end, but were matched with some scoreboard misfortune to go along with it. Atlanta, Boston, and New York each won in come-from-behind fashion, keeping Indiana from making up some ground as they look to work themselves back into the East’s top 8. They’ll wrap up their current two-game road trip on Sunday, with a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, who will no doubt remember Indiana’s dominating win two months ago.