The losing streak continues for the Indiana Pacers, four straight overall and five on the road as they fall in the second half to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pacers, despite garnering headlines for bringing back Lance Stephenson on a 10-day hardship, got news before tip that Caris LeVert, Goga Bitadze, and T.J. Warren all entered health and safety protocol, forcing Keifer Sykes and Duane Washington Jr. into starting roles.
Despite some discombobulation on offense in the first half, the Pacers shot well, managing to keep pace despite a torrid half from the Cavaliers. Both Sykes and Washington Jr. looked much more comfortable than in previous games, combining for 19 in the first half. Washingotn Jr. had eight in the second quarter to bring the Pacers to within two at the break.
The return of Stephenson also gave Indiana a welcome boost in the first half, assisting on an Oshae Brissett three on his first play and scoring six, hitting a step-back jumper as part of his six first half points.
welcome back, @StephensonLance pic.twitter.com/x8ZQt1uZSf— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 2, 2022
Domantas Sabonis came out of the half on a mission, scoring 16 points in the frame to help the Pacers into the lead, eventually peaking on a Justin Holiday three with three minutes remaining in the third, up 84-73. Unfortunately, with Sabonis on the bench, the Pacers fell flat offensively, allowing the Cavs to run off six straight before his return.
The run didn’t stop there, however. Kevin Love took charge for Cleveland, scoring the final eight of the third, putting Cleveland on top 88-84 heading into the fourth. While it felt like it was over after Love finished the third with a buzzer-beating three, Washington Jr. and Brissett pitched in back-to-back threes to tie the game at 90-90 early in the fourth.
Love and the Cavs responded, scoring the next seven and forcing the Pacers into four straight misses as they extended the lead. That would more or less be the difference the rest of the way, short of the final 30 seconds when Holiday and Washington Jr. hit back-to-back threes of their own to make it a three point game in the closing seconds.
Cleveland had allowed the Pacers back into it through a number of misses at the free throw line, but Brandon Goodwin hit the last of four with 6.9 seconds left to put the game out of reach, dropping Indiana 108-104, cheekily adding to their 1-11 record in close games, though this one was hardly what say, Friday afternoon’s game was.
The Pacers lost tonight’s game despite not only a big game from Sabonis, but a season best night from beyond the arc. They were 19-47 from deep, getting six players with multiple threes, including six from Holiday and four from Washington Jr. Even Sabonis had himself a night from deep, going 3-4 as part of his 32 point, 13 rebound outing.
Sabonis’s stretch in the third quarter was easily Indiana’s highlight. It’s been rare to see anyone just take charge on the offensive end this season the way he did in the third, though it remains incredibly discouraging they allowed 15 straight in just three minutes of action. The second unit is likely going to continue providing that especially if Brissett and Stephenson are the primary scorers.
Both players finished with six. Brissett’s two threes were a nice touch, but he struggled the rest of the way, including whiffing on a fast break late in the third that would’ve halted Cleveland’s run, if even temporarily. Stephenson had three assists, but was largely ineffective after a solid run in the first half, perhaps using up everything he had in his first run making a good first impression.
With Torrey Craig and Justin Anderson going scoreless on 0-7 shooting, the Pacers amassed just 12 bench points, compared to 45 from the Cavs. That put everything on the starters, which especially in the case of Holiday and Washington Jr., was more than expected. Holiday had 18 on his six threes and Washington Jr. finished with 20.
Sykes reached double figures with 10, looking far more comfortable than his first two outings and Myles Turner scored 12 with nine rebounds and three blocks. The starters, short of Sabonis, all committed at least four fouls, with Holiday eventually being disqualified. That led to 28 free throw attempts for the Cavs compared to just 14 for Indiana, highlighting Cleveland’s dominance inside, outscoring the Pacers 58-26.
It’s hard to be surprised at the outcome given what the Pacers currently are as a team, but it was still frustrating to see them put in the work to go up double figures only to have it disappear within three minutes. The Pacers will be back in action on Tuesday, looking for their first road win since November as they face the New York Knicks.