The Indiana Pacers were unable to complete the sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, but not for lack of trying. Despite rough nights across the board, the Pacers still managed to fight back from 24 down, eventually tying the game at 100-100 five minutes into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have enough when the Nets engaged themselves defensively, fading just enough down the stretch to take on the loss.
The engaged version of the Nets made all the difference tonight, so it was encouraging to see the Pacers take full advantage of their lulls. It also helped that they started hitting some shots as well. Early on, Indiana found similar looks to the ones they were knocking down on Saturday, but their complete inability to connect on a single three in the first quarter went a long way in helping a more focused Brooklyn team built a sizeable lead.
The Nets led by 15 after one and even though Bennedict Mathurin hit a three to open the second, Brooklyn continued to strike, hitting their own threes to double up Indiana at 48-24 barely two minutes into the second. The Pacers managed to keep the lead from swelling, but it was a while yet before their shots would start connecting.
After starting 2-19 as a team, Chris Duarte stepped into a three to cut the lead to 17. It was the first of three triples from Duarte to close the quarter, coming to life to score 11 as he and Buddy Hield (scoring 10 himself) helped close the half on a 30-13 Pacers run, cutting the lead to just seven at 61-54.
Myles Turner would get to the line to make it a six point game to open the third when the Nets connected on three straight threes, rattling off an 11-0 run that put the Pacers back down by 17. Duarte’s night was just getting started, however, following up with back-to-back buckets to keep the lead from getting out of hand again.
With Brooklyn up by 19 midway through the quarter, Mathurin cut the lead to 12 on two and-one opportunities, setting up Duarte again for a monster close to the quarter, scoring nine of his 15 third quarter points in the last five minutes, drilling a deep three from the letters at the buzzer to make it a seven point game once again heading into the fourth.
The Pacers inched their way back into the game in the opening minutes of the fourth, getting four big points from James Johnson and T.J. McConnell to cut the lead down to two. With the starters returning, Duarte drove the lane for a layup to make it a tie ball game at 100 apiece.
The Nets punched back with seven straight, a hole the Pacers struggled to climb out of as Brooklyn clamped down defensively, led by Joe Harris of all players. Even still, Indiana managed to slice into the deficit when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving began searching for daggers in the form of deep isolation threes allowing back-to-back buckets from Jalen Smith and Mathurin to make it a three point game.
After another rebound off of yet another dagger attempt from Irving and a minute remaining, Tyrese Haliburton was hounded at the rim, missing two shots inside the arc in the final minute to all but seal Indiana’s loss, closing out their road trip 2-3.
Indiana finished the night with a lot of gaudy numbers, shooting just 11-39 from three on the night, missing seven free throws, and turning the ball over 24 times. The Pacers got off on the wrong foot by missing all 12 of their first quarter threes, but their 8-13 stretch at the line in the third quarter did them absolutely no favors in winning the quarter.
The turnovers however, proved to be insurmountable even despite forcing 20 turnovers themselves. Haliburton had himself an especially poor outing, scoring just 11 points on 4-11 shooting, picking up five assists for the game but turning it over seven times. The Nets did a good job shrinking Haliburton with size, but they also telegraphed a fair number of his passes throughout the game.
Up front, the Pacers were just as light. Turner returned to action and offered up a lot of positives in the first half offensively, making excellent reads to get the ball to an open shooter (despite misses), but really came apart at the seams in the second half, going 0-4 for two points and three turnovers, two in the fourth quarter. Smith meanwhile, never got anything going, finishing with three points and four rebounds, the two bigs combining for 0-5 from three.
This was especially tough considering Isaiah Jackson’s play in the first half, scoring eight with five rebounds, even picking Durant’s pocket for a breakaway dunk in the second quarter. Unfortunately, he came up with a left knee injury in the first half and despite returning once, he didn’t come back for the second half, thinning out the rotation.
Similar ineffectiveness from Indiana’s backup point guards put a lot of onus on the shooting guards to well, shoot the Pacers back into it, and did they ever do just that. Duarte built on his success from Saturday with a career nigh, scoring 30 points on 10-15 shooting, hitting five of Indiana’s threes, nearly half of the team’s totals.
Fortunately, Duarte got some help with Hield putting in 22 himself, hitting a trio of threes and dishing seven assists, four of those to Duarte. Off the bench, Mathurin would offer up a strong second half, scoring 13 points on 5-7 shooting after a fairly inconsequential stretch of play in the first two quarters.
Indiana wraps up their five game road trip with a respectable 2-3 record, scoring consecutive road wins for the first time since the wild California back-to-back in the long forgotten days of January 2022. Given the opposition this trip, there’s little reason to be upset with the outcome, but that same may be true for their upcoming homestand; four straight games against playoff teams from a year ago.
That will be offset by a lengthy number of off days, including three days coming up, giving the Pacers some extra rest before hosting the Miami Heat on Friday.