Through the first 33 minutes, the Indiana Pacers put forth their best game of the season, taking it to the Brooklyn Nets behind a career night from Lance Stephenson. They may have been outscored 48-23 after that point, taking on an all-too familiar form in the fourth quarter to lose their sixth straight, but at least Lance took away the frustration for a little bit.
Stephenson posted a historic first quarter tonight in his return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse, hitting his first three point attempt and then lighting up the Nets for 20 points on 8-9 shooting, hitting four threes, doing it all in just over five minutes.
20 points.— NBA (@NBA) January 6, 2022
4-5 from deep.
In one quarter.
Lance. Stephenson. pic.twitter.com/kaNyZvlniZ
In addition to getting Indiana a 37-32 lead after one with a buzzer beating three, Stephenson wrapped up the quarter with the first 20-point first quarter from an Indiana Pacer, the first player to do so off the bench, and scored all 20 in consecutive order, the first player to do so this season.
Stephenson injected life into the fanbase tonight, bringing the Fieldhouse to its feet when he checked in breaking out the air guitar after the first triple, eventually getting the bench to join in.
standing ovation for @StephensonLance pic.twitter.com/CRO8LiKuCZ— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 6, 2022
The highs of the first quarter carried over into the second as Stephenson shifted more into a playmaker role. He had four assists in the quarter, guiding the Pacers to their first double figure lead of the night. He found Domantas Sabonis on three of those assists, scoring nine of his 32 in the quarter.
Keifer Sykes hit a pair of threes as part of his eight second quarter points as part of Indiana’s 10 first half threes, totaling 73 in the half, leading by 13. A quick start out of the half allowed Sabonis and Myles Turner to push the lead up to 19 in time for Brooklyn to dip into the deficit with nine straight.
To the Pacers’ credit, they had a response locked and loaded. Sykes would go bucket-for-bucket with Kevin Durant for a stretch and Duane Washington Jr. and Stephenson would each put in big time buckets as Indiana extended their lead out to 17 at 98-81.
Everything that happened after that was far more familiar to the tone of Indiana’s season, however. The Nets closed the quarter on a 20-4 run then ran away with it in the fourth, never allowing the Pacers to build on the seven point lead they had heading into the final period. The Pacers shot an abysmal 5-18 in the fourth, committing four turnovers, getting blocked three times, and going 0-9 from three, despite having a number of solid looks at the basket.
Indiana caved late once again at the slightest sign of defensive effort, but tonight was an especially tough finish given the opposition. Durant poured in an effortless 39 points, keeping the Nets afloat while Indiana was cruising. James Harden scored 18, working his way to the line at will and Kyrie Irving came alive late to finish with 22 in his season debut.
Stephenson would finish the night with 30 points, a Pacers career high. In addition to the big night on the scoreboard, his effort plays were huge in the second quarter, whether it be drawing key fouls on Durant or saving fast breaks with timely deflections. While Stephenson’s spot on the team long term may be up in the air, his spot as a Pacers legend was cemented tonight if it wasn’t already firmly in place.
Though reality came crashing down hard on the Pacers in the second half, their play in the first half was as exciting as it’s been in years. As soon as Stephenson checked in, he changed the complexion of the game, jolting a plodding start into something electric that somehow sustained itself well into the third quarter.
For all of the Stephenson bluster, it was Sabonis that led the way for the Pacers. His 32 points was aided once again by a strong night getting to the free throw line, going 11-13. In the last five games, he’s averaging 11.4 FTA per game. Though a couple of off nights have found their way in there, his ability to get to the line has helped in manufacturing some much needed points.
He also had 12 rebounds and 10 assists, leading far and away in both categories. Sykes once again had a nice night, scoring 18 points with five assists of his own. Turner had 14 points and five blocks and Washington reached double figures with 10. Washington struggled shooting, however, going 2-7 from deep, joined in three point hell by Justin Holiday, who was 1-9. Oshae Brisett pitched in with eight points and eight rebounds off the bench, pulling in four of Indiana’s seven offensive rebounds.
The inability to pull out any kind of win lately has been extremely frustrating given how well Indiana has played at times in these games. They drop to 14-25, slipping further and further away from any sort of relevance for this season. They’re now 3.5 games back of Atlanta for 12th, their 2-8 mark in their last 10 the worst in the league alongside Orlando and Houston, both of whom happen to be last place in their respective conferences.
Though they should start getting guys back as they clear health & safety protocol, the schedule will remain arduous, hosting the Utah Jazz on Saturday.