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Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin shine despite Pacers loss to Wizards

A late comeback attempt fell short for Indiana, dropping 114-107 to Washington. Tyrese Haliburton scored 26 and Bennedict Mathurin had 19 in the season opener.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The frustrations of a young team was on full display tonight for the Indiana Pacers in an opening night loss to the Washington Wizards, but it’s probably still fair to say they met expectations with both Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin having impressive showcases.

Though Indiana never led tonight, they still somehow put themselves in position to steal a win from the visiting Wizards, closing an 18-point gap in the fourth quarter down to three, Haliburton missing a game tying three with 28 seconds remaining. That three-point deficit was the closest the game had been since the opening minute, Indiana struggling throughout the night to hold the deficit to within 10 points.

They still pieced together a number of runs to make the game somewhat competitive, but the positives were short-lived, especially given Washington’s ability to dominate with their size advantage. The Pacers on a good day aren’t exactly built for size, but when news comes down just before tip that Myles Turner is ruled out with an ankle injury in warmups, it makes things that much more difficult against a Wizards team that definitely has size.

That particular advantage was reflected in a number of facets of the game, with Washington winning the rebounding battle by 10, blocking as many shots, and holding Indiana to 39.5% shooting and 34 points in the paint. Fortunately for Indiana, they were able to find some semblance of a three point shot, led by Haliburton and Buddy Hield early, opening the night with three straight threes.

The Pacers as a team shot under 36% from three however, which kept them from completely being able to hang with Washington for a bulk of the game. Even still, the Pacers were able to hang around, at least sort of, by limiting their own mistakes, entering the fourth quarter trailing by 10.

Indiana managed to make up for those lack of mistakes in a big way in the fourth quarter, opening with a pair of turnovers as the Wizards inched their lead up to 14. Though Oshae Brissett put the Pacers on the board with a fourth quarter three, it was quickly matched by Rui Hachimura and the Wizards, building the advantage to 18 on a pair of Daniel Gafford shots around the basket, leading 101-83 with 8:09 remaining.

The Pacers were quick with a response though, with Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith each overcoming tough nights to hit a three each. For Duarte, it was a much needed make, his lone field goal of the game before exiting the game after getting whacked across the face. He’d return to the bench, but not the game, finishing with just five points in his season debut.

Smith, meanwhile, was able to avoid such misfortune, completing a tough and-one to once again make it a single digit game.

As per usual, the Pacers were still unable to slice into the deficit any further when Kyle Kuzma hit a dagger-esque jumper with two minutes remaining to make it a 110-99 game. After trading misses, Aaron Nesmith drilled a running three courtesy of Haliburton and following a stop and rebound, Mathurin did the same with a three of his own to cut the lead to five.

Mathurin then did what all Pacers fans dream of, stealing the ball in the backcourt and giving the Pacers another quick look with 40 seconds remaining. The Pacers were unable to immediately convert, but did manage to hold onto possession, setting up Mathurin for a beautiful and-one off of the inbounds to cut the lead to three.

Unfortunately, Mathurin missed the free throw attempt, the third miss of the quarter for the rookie and the sixth of the quarter for the Pacers as a whole. Hield was still able to corral the miss, setting up Haliburton for a game tying three that he would unfortunately miss, eventually setting up the Will Barton and the Wizards the opportunity to ice the game at the line, doing just that for a 114-107 victory.

The Pacers shot just 3-9 from the free throw line in the fourth, an absolute killer down the stretch and a disappointing development considering their 11-12 shooting to that point. Mathurin, despite being incredibly proficient in the preseason, finished 2-5 from the line while Smith was 3-5 for the game, going 1-3 in the final period. Isaiah Jackson accounted for the sixth miss, splitting his lone trip early in the quarter.

Even despite failing to complete the comeback in the clutch, the low bar they were looking to clear was indeed cleared. Haliburton finished the night with 26 points, leading the team in shooting at 10-18 while also dishing seven assists. Haliburton looked for his shot throughout the night and found considerable success when doing so, making three of his six three point attempts, even putting in a pair of impressive dunks in the third.

Off the bench, Mathurin scored 19 points on 7-15 shooting. He pulled in seven boards with two steals, also hitting three triples (3-7). Though Mathurin had his rookie moments tonight (finishing with three turnovers), he checked into the game, challenged Kristaps Porzingis at the rim, won, and was off to the races.

Turner’s late absence no doubt threw a wrench into whatever gameplan the Pacers had drawn up in an attempt to contain Washington’s size. That put a lot on Smith and Jackson, neither player offering up much resistance. Smith in particular just didn’t have much going for him in the first half, struggling against Porzingis while also shooting 1-6 for two points.

He’d flip the script in the second half, however, scoring 14 points with six rebounds in the second half to at least help matters somewhat. To that point, Indiana’s most successful big play came from Terry Taylor, which is neither a surprise nor all that optimal with Indiana’s personnel tonight. Taylor finished with eight points on 2-6 shooting tonight, getting to the line and hitting a three, pulling in a quiet two boards and two steals as the emergency starter tonight.

The Pacers had only four double figure scorers tonight, rounded out by Hield with 16 points. Hield led the way with four made threes tonight, completing a double double with 10 rebounds. Hield wasn’t without his faults, his 6-16 shooting night speaking to some poor shot selection, but he still took it upon himself to provide the Pacers with a needed scoring punch.

Mathurin would not only lead the bench in scoring, but would outscore the rest of the bench on his own 19-17. T.J. McConnell had eight, putting in a couple of late buckets in the third, but Aaron Nesmith, Jackson, and Brissett combined for 3-15 shooting for nine points. Goga Bitadze added in one more miss as the second unit really struggled finding themselves tonight, offering up small things here and there, but nothing sustained.

Though the Pacers found some success in exhibition games over the summer (and last week), their regular season losing streak now extends to 11, their longest since 2007 and one shy of tying the franchise mark set back in 1983, 1985, and 1989. Fortunately for the blue and gold, they’ll remain at home for the next two games, hosting fellow lottery hopefuls San Antonio Spurs on Friday and Detroit on Saturday, hopefully getting them at least one win before a tough road trip next week.