Despite their best efforts (maybe literally), the Indiana Pacers weren’t able to keep their winning streak alive, falling in the second half to the Phoenix Suns. The outcome of course proved no surprise with the Pacers again playing shorthanded without Caris LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon, but they still managed to play well enough to close a 22-point deficit all the way down to six late, only to succumb to the once and future king, Bismack Biyombo.
The Pacers spent most of the night in comeback mode, falling behind out of the gate 12-4, but getting a brief taste of the lead late in the first, with Chris Duarte capping a 5-0 Pacers that had them on top 25-22. That lead wouldn’t last one possession into the second quarter, but Jeremy Lamb would key up a run to get them back into the lead with some nice wizardry.
Though the Suns had a response, the Pacers would do a fantastic job keeping them from extending the lead out to double figures. After Lamb’s second and-one of the quarter, Chris Duarte would trim the lead to four with a buzzer beater, his second three of the quarter eventually bringing Indiana to within three in the closing seconds.
As with the first quarter, Phoenix would tally the final points of the quarter, heading to the break up 59-54. Out of the half, however, the Suns came out with a purpose, scoring the first eight and extending their lead out to 20 by the four minute mark of the third. Lance Stephenson, playing his best game of the road trip, scored four of Indiana’s points in a 7-0 run, though the Suns, led by Biyombo, kept it well out of reach heading into the fourth.
The mastery of Chris Paul was on display all night, so it was no surprise to see him methodically tick the lead up to 22 early in the fourth. That may have been manageable on a night when Devin Booker had one of his worst shooting nights of the year (11 points on 5-23 shooting, even whiffing on a breakaway windmill dunk at the end of the game), but the play of Biyombo was just too much for Goga Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson to handle.
So when he went to the bench at the 9:03 mark of the quarter, the Pacers began to rally back. Torrey Craig hit back-to-back threes while Justin Holiday assisted on a pair of Duarte and Bitadze buckets. By the time Biyombo returned with 3:49 left in the fourth, Indiana had outscored Phoenix by 12.
Unfortunately, that rest didn’t cool off the Pacers Killer, immediately rebounding a Mikal Bridges miss and forcing Duarte to alter his own rebound attempt off of a Cameron Johnson second chance opportunity. That would ultimately set up Johnson for another three point attempt, this time aiming true to extend the lead out to nine, and effectively close out the win.
Phoenix would outscore Indiana 8-4 down the stretch, just enough of an advantage to keep it out of reach for the plucky Pacers. Biyombo finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, joining Mikal Bridges (23) and Paul (18) as the top three scorers in the game. Duarte and Stephenson led the way with 17 each.
The Pacers again played really well, though stretches of fatigue really hampered their chances tonight. Stephenson had a fantastic outing, especially in the second half, to guide Indiana back into the game, scoring 17 on 7-9 shooting. That ultimately paired well with Lamb’s first half, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds, looking as good as he has since returning from his torn ACL. Lamb also turned defense into offense in Indiana’s fourth quarter comeback attempt.
In the starting lineup, Duarte led the way with 17, continuing to play well on this trip with a bigger role. Bitadze finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, his second career double double. Holiday and Oshae Brissett wrapped up the double figure scorers with 10 each. Jackson had six points with three rebounds two blocks, flashing some nice defensive instincts while also working his way into the flow of the NBA game as a whole.
Keifer Sykes had just five, struggling in shooting the ball, but also struggling in threading passes. He led the way with five turnovers, a few of those coming late in the second quarter as he kept trying to find Bitadze in a crowded paint. Indiana had 18 turnovers overall, which led to 22 Phoenix points, a brutal statistic to have to overcome.
Against all odds, the Pacers will still have a shot at a winning road record when they wrap up their five game trip against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday. The Pacers will definitely be without Brogdon in addition to Domantas Sabonis for that game, but these guys who have played the last two games will do everything they can to put themselves in a position to get back in the win column.