One of the few things absent so far in this surprisingly exciting start to the season has been a gut punch loss, but the Denver Nuggets managed to deliver just that to the Indiana Pacers tonight. Just about everything broke Indiana’s way up until the midway point of the third, when a 17-point lead began to slowly dwindle, shrinking to six by the end of the quarter and turning into a deficit halfway through the fourth.
Though the Pacers were never fully able to regain their composure once Nikola Jokic put the Nuggets on top, they remained in the game down to the final shot. Too many missed shots late and some tough officiating decisions in the closing minute didn’t help matters, but as far as “learning experience” losses go, this one’s hard to beat.
Denver appeared to have things on lock from the jump, leading 20-11 before Bennedict Mathurin stepped into his first three pointer, perfectly paired by a deep triple from Tyrese Haliburton to follow. Staying within reach was a positive development with Jokic playing well before he went to the bench with a second foul late in the first.
That didn’t help Indiana much on the scoreboard to close out the quarter with Bones Hyland extending the lead out to double figures with a minute remaining, but a positive showing from Isaiah Jackson did help bring the lead down to eight heading into the second. Mathurin would come alive early in the second, hitting four threes in the first four minutes of the period, suddenly flipping the lead in Indiana’s favor.
Jokic meanwhile picked up two more fouls a minute after checking into the game, sending him right back to the bench with four as the Pacers continued to pile on, extending their lead out to 13 on a staggering 35-9 run. Jamal Murray stemmed the tide a bit, but Indiana’s offense, whether fueled by Jackson alley oops or Haliburton corner threes, refused to deter, reaching 70 by halftime.
Starting the third, Myles Turner drew #5 on Jokic a minute in, once again hampering Denver’s offensive potential. After completing the two free throws, Indiana’s offense took a hit when Turner picked up his fourth. A quick third on Jackson would have Rick Carlisle looking to Goga Bitadze as a center, a move that didn’t move the needle much for the Pacers as the offense became less and less effective.
Denver, meanwhile, found some life courtesy of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, hitting three triples in the quarter as they made it a single digit game. At this point, the Pacers had no real rhythm to speak of, scoring just two points across eight possessions, five of which resulted in turnovers.
After somehow keeping the game at double figures, Hyland would close the quarter with five points, cutting the Pacers lead to just six heading into the fourth. Mathurin’s big first half was not to be replicated in the third quarter, but he did finally give Indiana’s offense a punch to start the fourth, scoring six to make it a seven point game.
The return of Jokic proved too much for the Pacers, however, as the two-time MVP showed off his wares scoring seven to help turn a seven point deficit into a three point lead. Two big buckets from Buddy Hield and Andrew Nembhard would tie the game up at 110-110 midway through the quarter, but the Pacers were unable to break through from there, matching stops with misses and makes with baskets allowed.
With the game winding down, Turner did an impressive job at least limiting Jokic’s success. There was still plenty to be found for him, each stop at least kept the game within reach. With two minutes remaining, Mathurin attacked the basket and was fouled in the air, appearing to come down on his wrist, splitting a trip at the line.
Haliburton would tie the game with a big step back jumper against Jokic, but Jokic would offer a tough follow up on his own jumper, finding success in stepping away from Turner rather into him at the basket. Haliburton would be unable to repeat his make, giving possession back to Denver with less than 30 seconds.
Mathurin would be whistled for a light foul on Murray, a call Carlisle took offense to, garnering a technical for his effort. It was the second such call of the quarter for Indiana, following a celebration from Mathurin after his first basket of the fourth. The Carlisle one was more justified (especially as Jokic pointed out Carlisle straying from the bench), but the Mathurin tech and the foul on Murray remained tough pills to swallow, allowing the Nuggets to extend their lead to five at 122-117.
Back on the other end, Haliburton drove the length of the floor in six seconds for a quick layup. The Pacers were slow to foul Jokic on the half court inbounds, but managed to challenge him enough as he drove to the basket for his own layup to force the miss and regain possession with six seconds on the clock.
Haliburton raced down the floor, surprisingly passing up a shot in range and in rhythm to find Turner on the opposite elbow, forcing Turner to adjust on the fly twice for an off-balance attempt that bounced just off of the rim, dropping Indiana back into the loss column.
It was a bit of an odd decision for Haliburton, who appeared to be in good position for the game-tying attempt, but whatever he saw on the opposite side of the court simply didn’t pan out. Turner’s shot had something of a chance of going in despite being well covered, but it wasn’t a great position to be in.
Alas, the Pacers fell short tonight, having their three game home winning streak snapped by a formidable Nuggets team. It’s still tough to get a gauge on what this Pacers team actually is though. As Caitlin pointed out, this was not the best version of the Denver Nuggets with Jokic logging just 21 minutes and the team committing 22 turnovers, but the Pacers made those things happen as well.
A big part of Indiana’s success was due to the first half play of Mathurin. Mathurin scored 23 first half points on 8-10 shooting, making five of his six three point attempts. He would score seven more in the fourth to bring his total up to 30, but the game proved much tougher for him in the second half, committing three turnovers after the break.
Mathurin alone lifted the overall play of the bench, but it helped to get some support from Jackson, who completed a double double of 17 points and 10 rebounds, including 5-6 from the line. Though scoring proved difficult for anyone else in the second unit. Oshae Brissett got some first half minutes, offering up a lot of positives with three rebounds and a drawn charge as the Pacers sprinted their way to 70 points at the half.
this is now a Bennedict Mathurin stan account‼️ pic.twitter.com/WywCo4aiAE— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 10, 2022
Haliburton led the way among the starters with 21 points and 11 assists, shooting 9-15 overall and 3-8 from deep, second highest on the team behind Mathurin’s six made threes. The Pacers were unable to replicate their recent three point success tonight, finishing 14-42 overall, but just 2-12 in the fourth.
Jalen Smith hit a pair for his six points as did Hield, but at just 2-9, proved to be a tough outing for him. Turner also struggled from behind the arc, going 0-4 himself. It was good elsewhere, however, as he finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks. Nembhard meanwhile had some positive plays, hitting a key triple and dishing five assists, but committed four turnovers.
Despite actually winning the turnover battle (22-18), Denver trounced Indiana 26-15 in points off of them. Also, from quarter to quarter, the Pacers looked barely competitive, losing three of the four quarters by eight or more points. Their 43-21 second quarter victory definitely went a long way.
Dropping to 5-6, the Pacers will wrap up their four game home stand with a Saturday night matchup against the Toronto Raptors.