Despite a strong showing through three quarters, Winning Time would prove an ocean between the Indiana Pacers and the Phoenix Suns. The outcome proved no surprise, but as the Suns outscored Indiana 16-2 to start the fourth, there was a pang of disappointment for a Pacers team had climbed back in and taken a pair of brief leads after trailing by 14 points early in the third.
Not only did the Pacers struggle in Winning Time of the game, but they brought the same energy to Winning Time in each of the first three quarters. An ugly start to the game allowed the Pacers to stay locked up with Phoenix throughout the first, sitting tied at 19-19. The Suns would close the quarter on a 4-0 run.
Neither team had any notable success offensively in the first half. The Pacers could barely get the ball into the paint, but stayed afloat due to a decent three-point shooting first. That would reverse a bit in the second as Indiana began to find more success inside, but the offense never quite picked up, struggling mightily with shot creation and flow.
Fortunately for them, the Suns were right down in the muck with them. Both team shot under 35% in the first half, allowing the Pacers to again tie the game up, this time at 38-38 with 2:57 remaining in the half. Once again, however, the Suns put their stamp on the game, holding Indiana scoreless for the remainder of the quarter and outscoring Indiana 8-0.
Devin Booker came out of the half with a purpose, scoring 12 points on 4-4 shooting from three to push Phoenix’s lead out to 14. The Pacers, for the first time all night, found success on the offensive end, using a big quarter from Justin Holiday to chip into the lead, eventually tying it up at 66-66.
Two more threes from Holiday would finally allow the Pacers to break through, both at 73-70 and 76-73, but a failure to string together stops would make those advantages short-lived. In fact, that 76-73 lead would be the last time the Pacers would score in the third, as Phoenix finished out the quarter with a 7-0 stretch.
For those keeping score at home, the Suns outscored Indiana 19-0 at the end of the first three quarters, feasting on the proverbial “end of quarter buckets” yours truly so often laments. As something that was largely foreseeable, it’s not any less disappointing, especially with Phoenix blowing the game wide open in the fourth to coast to the win, outscoring Indiana 32-18 in the final period.
One of Indiana’s biggest struggles these past couple of seasons has come in just getting a stop. Leads have proven especially precarious, but the ability to get there to begin with is often met with poor results. Tonight, the Pacers were locked in a tie game with Phoenix 10 separate times tonight, coming away with a grand total of two stops (there were zero stops on the two possessions in which they had the lead), only one resulting in a Pacers bucket.
Indiana finished the night shooting 38.6% from the floor, warming up in the third before dropping back off in the fourth. Indiana scored 38 first half points, 38 third half points, and somehow still had their worst quarter in the fourth, putting up just 18. Phoenix meanwhile turned 46 first half points into 66 second half points, upping their shooting to nearly 46%, including an efficient 11-28 from deep.
Indiana was 13-43 from three by comparison, almost singlehandedly dragged out of the 20% range by Holiday, who hit a season high seven triples. Six of those came in the first three quarter, each lead by the Pacers granted by Holiday threes. Holiday started the game hot and alongside a pair of threes to open from Torrey Craig, helped buoy an absolutely putrid offensive game to stay alive in the first half.
He finished with 25 points, filling up the stat sheet with four rebounds, two steals, and three blocks. Indiana had nine steals total (Myles Turner led the way with three, blocking two shots), though despite winning the turnover battle 15-12, the Pacers still lost in points off turnovers 19-16, just plain struggling to convert against Phoenix’s defense.
Caris LeVert scored 20 with nine assists, but needed 19 shots to get there. The bursts were short from LeVert as a scorer, but he was effective in finding guys all night, including assisting on each of Holiday’s lead-stealing threes. Unfortunately, he did lead the team with three turnovers.
Domantas Sabonis struggled to find his footing against DeAndre Ayton and Phoenix’s interior defense, holding Indiana to just four paint points in the first. He would score 10 of his 14 in the third as Indiana stormed back into the game, but struggled to come away with any success on the offensive glass despite finishing with 14 boards and six assists.
Malcolm Brogdon missed tonight’s game with his sore achilles, putting Keifer Sykes back into the starting lineup. Sykes finished with four points, each coming early in both halves, but was largely limited in terms of ball handling and minutes. Turner meanwhile had seven rebounds, joining LeVert with three offensive boards, but struggled to convert himself, going just 2-9 for five points, but did come away with a nice putback dunk in the third.
Outside of Craig’s two threes in the first quarter, there wasn’t much noise coming from the bench. Craig scored eight on 3-5 shooting, but the rest of the bench combined for 18 points on 6-23 shooting. The trio of Oshae Brissett, Lance Stephenson, and Chris Duarte combined for just 1-13 shooting from three and that single make was a shot clock beating heave from Stephenson with Chris Paul draped all over him.
On December 10th, the Pacers beat Dallas to improve to 12-16 on the season, a less than exciting record, but the win did improve them to 5-3 in their last eight. Their next game was hosting Golden State, a game they let slip through their fingers. The failure to come away with a win in that game has carried over for Indiana, who is 3-12 since that night.
They’re also 1-9 in their last 10, their first such 10-game stretch since 2014 as everything just feels like it’s becoming less and less sustainable even before COVID shuffled guys in and out of the lineup. Unsure of what relief in the schedule would even look like right now, the Pacers are set for seven of their next eight on the road, including a five game Western trip that will conveniently feature games against both Phoenix and Golden State.
The Pacers haven’t won a road game since November 22, heading to California on a seven-game skid away from Gainbridge Fieldhouse. They’ll spend a few days in Los Angeles (forecasted in the upper 60’s) to face both LA squads, first tipping against the short-handed Clippers in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee that will tip at 3:30 Eastern.