For the first time all season, the Indiana Pacers truly gutted out a win, topping the Los Angeles Lakers in thrilling fashion behind a 22-point fourth quarter from Employee #22. Caris LeVert was quiet for much of the night, but warmed up in a hurry, scoring 11 of 12 Pacers points to turn an 85-81 deficit into a 93-87 advantage.
LeVert, along with timely buckets from both Jeremy Lamb and Domantas Sabonis, made a patchwork lineup featuring Torrey Craig and Chris Duarte work, outscoring the Lakers 28-13, somehow turning a double figure second quarter deficit into a double figure advantage with just 90 seconds remaining.
It was the rarest of wins for Indiana, who had not only not won a road game since November 22, but were 0-19 when trailing at halftime and had found just one victory when behind after three. That combination of factors made the strong close a surprise to say the least, especially with familiar inabilities to string together stops plaguing them in their two (brief) third quarter leads.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, they’re incapable of gaining anything without first giving something in return, as evidenced by Sabonis turning his ankle with about five minutes remaining in the game. Sabonis was clearly bothered by the injury, but would finish the game, hitting a crucial late game triple to help seal the victory.
After the game, Rick Carlisle said he believes the diagnosed ankle sprain will probably be significant, likely putting Indiana without either of their starting bigs for the time being. Sabonis finished the night with 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, including assisting on all four baskets in Indiana’s go-ahead 10-0 run in the fourth.
Three of those went to LeVert, who shot a staggering 9-10 from the floor in the fourth quarter in tallying his 22 points. He finished with 30 on 12-16 shooting, pulling in eight rebounds. He also had a nice steal late in the third quarter to cut their deficit to four heading into the fourth.
Hot shooting carried the Lakers early. At one point, Russell Westbrook, Talen Horton-Tucker, and LeBron James combined for 7-8 from three, helping to build a 47-33 Lakers advantage midway through the second. After an Indiana turnover, Craig was whistled for a three shot foul against Westbrook, but Carlisle utilized his coach’s challenge to get it overturned.
Craig, raked across the face by Westbrook on the play, came away from the play with a bloody nose and a desire to score the next five points, breathing life into Indiana’s lackluster play. A switch to a zone, along with minutes from Isaiah Jackson, allowed them to inch their way back into the game, winning the quarter trailing by six at the break.
After fighting to close that gap throughout the third, Justin Holiday finally gave Indiana their first lead of the game. It would disappear on the very next play, so too would Malcolm Brogdon’s and-one that came as a response, as Los Angeles used a 12-2 run to go back up by eight late in the quarter. That’s when LeVert (along with an Oshae Brissett layup) would pick up steal to cut the game to four at 80-76.
Brogdon did in fact return tonight, playing 26 minutes, the late run allowing him to sit the fourth out. He finished with 19 points in his return, going 7-14 from the floor. Everything he did as a scorer came at the rim, where he was surprisingly effective attacking the LA defense as he missed all six of his shots beyond 10 feet.
Holiday again helped Indiana’s woeful three point shooting, hitting three of their 11 for 11 points. Craig hit just one of his seven attempts, shooting 2-12 overall, but brought some much needed life to a Pacers team that was every bit their usual, struggling selves, finishing with 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Off the bench, Duarte scored 11, hitting a pair of threes while Brissett and Lamb each scored five. Jackson got his most meaningful run of the year, scoring two points and blocking a shot as soon as he entered the game. He got the minutes in part due to Goga Bitadze quickly getting himself a pair of first quarter fouls, scoring three and blocking two shots in just three minutes of action.
The win snaps Indiana’s eight game road losing streak and four game streak overall. However, at 4-17 on the road and with a potential absence from Sabonis looming, the long term prospects of this season aren’t looking all that much better than they were prior to tip, but it’s still worth taking in the wins when they do come around.
Indiana will have a quick turnaround following this one, traveling north to San Francisco to face the Golden State Warriors tomorrow night. It’ll be another late tip, but it will also be the last 10 p.m. tip of the year, which is cause for its own celebration. The game will be a nationally televised game on TNT, so buckle up for what that might look like.