Despite a rocky performance overall, the Indiana Pacers managed to close out a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers to at least temporarily move them back into 9th in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers outscored Cleveland 58-42 in the second half, an advantage that wasn’t truly realized until the closing minutes.
Indiana appeared to be in business early, jumping out to a quick 10-point lead in the first quarter, but lackadaisical passing and a propensity for fouls allowed the Cavs to work themselves back into the game, erasing the lead and taking a 28-27 advantage into the second quarter.
Cleveland continued to push early in the second quarter, pushing that lead out to double figures at the halfway mark of the quarter. The Pacers, particularly Kelan Martin, had an 11-0 run as a response, putting the Pacers back on top, briefly. Collin Sexton scored eight in the final two minutes and change, putting the Cavaliers on top 60-53 at halftime.
The Pacers would do a good job repeating that process throughout the third quarter, tying the game only to have Cleveland go back ahead by two possessions like clockwork. Late in the third, an 8-0 run fueled by back-to-back threes from Caris LeVert and Martin put Indiana ahead, again briefly, when Domantas Sabonis lost the ball on a turnover, leading to a Jeremiah Martin three.
Sabonis responded, calling for the ball, and getting those points back on a three, giving the Pacers a 79-77 lead after three. The three triples to close the third proved to be a big boost for the Pacers, who to that point had really struggled from deep. Their ability to consistently knock down threes late in the third and into the fourth helped them weather Cleveland’s own push.
Despite allowing Cleveland to tie the game up on two separate occasions in the fourth, this time Indiana didn’t relinquish the lead, effectively putting the game out of reach on a 9-2 run after a lights-out stretch from Isaac Okoro tied the game at 91-91 just shy of the six minute mark of the fourth.
Martin was there all night for the Pacers, hitting a timely three to make it an eight-point lead with four minutes remaining and then pushing the lead to 10 with under two to go on a layup. Martin had a career high 25 points, shooting 11-16 from the field and 3-4 from three point range. He also had seven rebounds.
Martin’s play was not only a welcome sight, it was a game saving performance to boot. Rough nights from the likes of Edmond Sumner, Goga Bitadze, and Aaron Holiday (a combined 1-14 shooting for two points) really did a number on Indiana’s margin for error, forcing them into a tight contest in the second half. Martin played the final 15 minutes, scoring as many points, and helping Indiana in a 14-point turnaround to close out the win.
Sabonis led the way among the starters with 21 points and 20 rebounds, falling an assist short of a triple double, but also coming up with four blocks. Jarrett Allen, a normally reliable rim protector, offered up little resistance against Sabonis, who finished 8-15 from the floor with a team high six free throw attempts.
LeVert also had a 20-point night, finishing with a double double with 10 assists. Though Indiana’s young role players struggled tonight outside of Martin, their veteran role players did come through in the end, with Doug McDermott, Justin Holiday, and T.J. McConnell reach reaching double figures with 13, 11, and 10 respectively.
Holiday in particular was a big part of Indiana’s success on the defensive end, more or less completely eliminating the success of Sexton in the second half. Sexton had just five points, going 1-12 after the break after torching the Pacers for 18 in the first half. Holiday, meanwhile, hit a pair of corner threes in the fourth quarter.
The Pacers held Cleveland to just 35% shooting for the game, but the combination of timely three point shooting (13-39), offensive rebounds (15), and a sizeable free throw advantage (23-12) really minimized how much control the Pacers could seize on the game. They did limit Cleveland to just 40 points in the paint (while scoring 64), their best outing since January 24.
The win, coupled with a late Washington loss against Atlanta, puts the Pacers back in 9th in the East with four games remaining. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t favor in the slightest for the next three, making it a tall order that they’ll maintain that seeding even as Washington will likely be without Bradley Beal in the short term.
Indiana will close out their home schedule with three games against elite competition, starting with a back-to-back tomorrow night against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers may be shorthanded however, with Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz both out and Joel Embiid questionable.