While things got wacky late as the Indiana Pacers staged another late game comeback that fell short, this game didn’t have much going for it up until that point. The San Antonio Spurs would score the first five points of the game, ensuring once again that the Pacers would suffer a wire-to-wire loss, piling on 36 for the first and another 34 in the second quarter.
The Pacers, after falling behind by 10 in the first quarter, did manage to climb back into the game with the second unit, debut minutes from Andrew Nembhard helping to make it a 45-43 game when the starters returned. Instantly, the game flipped back in favor of the Spurs, scoring eight straight before Rick Carlisle called a timeout and pulled the starters.
While maybe it mattered in terms of sending a message(?), it didn’t offer up much help on the scoreboard, with the Spurs closing the half with three three pointers, totaling 70 points at the half and leading by 15. Veteran Josh Richardson had two of those threes, bringing his first half total to four makes out of five attempts, helping San Antonio to a scorching 12-20 as a team.
Indiana’s defense, frankly nonexistent, didn’t pair well with San Antonio’s shooting, prompting Carlisle to keep searching for answers, swapping Chris Duarte and Jalen Smith out of the half for Bennedict Mathurin and Goga Bitadze. The Spurs started the third with two more threes, extending the lead out to 19. Smith’s return to action proved to be short lived when he took a shot to the face, leaving the game for good at that point.
In looking for any positive in the third quarter, in which the Pacers allowed 32, it was that Tyrese Haliburton showed signs of life after a terrible first half. Haliburton had four points on 2-5 shooting with three assists and two turnovers in the first half, seemingly having all of his passes telegraphed by San Antonio before finally seeing a couple of shots go in the third.
Even that wasn’t enough to help Indiana keep pace with the Spurs, their defense allowing 5-9 shooting from deep, two more makes from Richardson. San Antonio led by 17 heading into the fourth with Carlisle finding run for James Johnson, who did score and block Zach Collins on back-to-back possessions, but the deficit set at 14 midway through the quarter when the Pacers employed their hack-a-Jakob Poeltl strategy.
Considering allowing even one point a successful defensive stop, the Pacers fouled Poeltl on seven of their next eight possessions, only completely whiffing once when a failure to pull in one of Poeltl’s misses set up Tre Jones for a reverse three point play courtesy of Poeltl. The Pacers also sent Jones to the line instead on the eighth possession.
While this wasn’t exciting basketball in the least, it did allow the Pacers to somewhat climb back into it. Haliburton was looking much more in tune, completing a couple of and-ones himself, cutting the deficit to single digits for the first time in the second half with under three minutes remaining.
The Pacers trailed by 10 heading into the final minute, a series of missed shots around the basket and elsewhere keeping Indiana from getting any closer than eight, but they managed to piece together their best defensive effort by employing a full court press after San Antonio had used their last timeout early in an attempt to beat a potential jump ball call between Mathurin and Jones.
Nembhard made it a two-possession game with 40 seconds left and an inbounds steal courtesy of Buddy Hield cut the lead to four. Haliburton would later make it a three point game on a three shot foul and improbably getting away with not fouling to force a Keldon Johnson turnover at the rim, Haliburton raced to the basket to cut the lead to one with 6.7 seconds on the clock.
Jones and the Spurs extended the lead back to three, but Indiana didn’t have much in the way of inventiveness on the ensuing inbounds with 1.7 seconds remaining, handing the ball into Mathurin, well covered, for a heavily contested heave that wasn’t close to going in, resulting in their second straight home loss to start the season.
The Pacers, who still have yet to lead in a game this season, were worse than expected tonight, especially against a team that also aims to be lottery bound this season. With Myles Turner expected to be out for a week or so, Indiana is scrambling on the defensive end in a really bad way, but it’s hard to tell just how much Turner solves this.
Carlisle went to the wonky lineup well earlier in the year than probably expected, especially with Smith getting off to another slow start (scoring two points in seven minutes of action) and Duarte strangely missing (four points in 17 minutes) tonight as well. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, which explains why T.J. McConnell (four points, four assists, two steals) is finding time with fellow point guard Nembhard tonight.
Nembhard was solid in his first game, however, scoring 14 points and hitting a pair of threes, though he did require 12 shots to get to those 14 points. Nembhard did close things out tonight, playing a team high 30 minutes. In looking for answers for poor play and injuries, Carlisle went 12 deep, including Johnson, who scored just two, but had two blocks and a pair of boards in 12 minutes.
Aaron Nesmith also made his debut tonight, scoring nine, offering up some flashes on offense and some flashes on defense, but in a way that tracks with what the Pacers have seen over the summer and in preseason. Isaiah Jackson had a better offensive showing tonight, soaring to 16 points with six rebounds while Hield reached double figures with 13, leading the Pacers with three three pointers on a night they shot just 11-35 as a team. Terry Taylor had nine himself with a team high seven rebounds.
Of course, nothing this season appears to really matters as much as development in regards to both Haliburton and Mathurin and for the second straight game, they each showcased a lot of positives, at least ignoring some defensive whiffs. Mathurin stepped into the game late in the first and scored 13 points in 11 minutes, helping to bring Indiana to within two. After going scoreless in the third, he came back to life, putting in 10 more in the fourth with a pair of threes to finish the night with 26 points.
Haliburton meanwhile overcame a terrible start, one of his worst stretches in a Pacers uniform to score 18 of his 27 in the fourth, dishing five of his 12 assists in the quarter as well. San Antonio did a great job early taking him out of the game completely, leading to four turnovers on the game, but once Haliburton got settled into the game, he really began to shine, even finding success attacking the basket.
Haliburton and Mathurin combined for 16 free throw attempts, 73% of Indiana’s total free throw attempts, hitting 15 total. Their combined 28 points in the fourth helped the Pacers to a staggering 49 fourth quarter points, somehow still losing in large part to allowing 35.
The Pacers, still searching for their first win, may be looking for a while if they don’t come through tomorrow night in their final game of their three game home stand, hosting the Detroit Pistons. The Pistons took one on the chin tonight in a blowout loss to New York, but given the Spurs entered their game with the Pacers in the same situation, it doesn’t guarantee anything especially with Indiana’s defense in as bad a spot as last season.