With the game on the line, Jimmy Butler stepped up as a closer for the Miami Heat while the Indiana Pacers were left flailing. That made all the difference in a rock fight, as Butler calmly scored seven straight in Winning Time to break up a tightly contested matchup. Though Indiana would make it interesting late, a nine-point lead in the lowest scoring NBA game this season might as well have been 20, and though Indiana did actually erase a 20-point lead in this game, it was a tall order in the final two and a half minutes.
The Pacers were locked down from the jump, needing a pair of Buddy Hield threes to end the first to keep the game within single digits, a deficit that did not hold well into the second when Miami pushed their lead out to 19 at 43-24. At that point, the Pacers did manage to bring Miami down to their level, clawing their way back into it on an 18-2 run, trailing by five at halftime following a tough Butler turnaround to end the half.
In the third, the Pacers would use another run to take their first lead of the second half, building a five-point advantage at 62-57 when Tyrese Haliburton hit a technical free throw for his first point of the game. As much of a surprise as it was that Indiana had the lead with Haliburton blanking from the field to that point, it unfortunately did not improve matters as the quarter progressed with the Heat closing out the third on a 10-2 run to regain the lead.
That put both teams into a highly contested fourth quarter. After swapping leads, the game set tied 72-72 when the Indiana starters returned to the game. That’s when the Pacers really began to feel the brunt of Haliburton’s lack of scoring as he began to shy away from looks for late shot clock passes, resulting in three straight turnovers for Indiana.
Indiana’s defense, led by Myles Turner and Andrew Nembhard gave the Pacers a shot throughout the fourth even as they floundered offensively, mustering up just one point in four minutes of action. The Heat, meanwhile, had just two points in five minutes before Kyle Lowry extended the lead out to four with 3:54 remaining. Hield and the Pacers responded, stepping on the line for a deep two. That’s when Butler took over, extending the lead out to nine.
Nembhard and Hield ran off five straight points with a minute remaining to cut the lead to four and were gifted the ball following a botched inbounds play from Miami, but Haliburton passed out of defensive pressure to Turner in the corner, who was unable to stay inbounds. Getting Miami to miss three of their game icing free throws didn’t work in Indiana’s favor either, resulting in the 87-82 loss.
Tonight was just the third time in his career that Haliburton would go o-fer from the field. He shot 0-9 and 0-6 from three point range, looking completely worn down by Miami’s defense, scoring just one point on the technical free throw. It was a rough outing not only as a scorer, but as a playmaker as well. He had six assists, his third lowest on the year, and was blessed to only be counted with two of Indiana’s 18 turnovers.
His six assists still proved to be a team high as Indiana totaled a season low 16, shooting 35.4% from the field, also a season low. That can’t take away from how good Indiana was defensively. After falling behind by 19, they held Miami to 1-11 shooting to finish the half and 35.9% in the second half.
The defensive effort was led by Turner and Nembhard, with Turner playing as well against Bam Adebayo as he ever has. While Adebayo got the better of the matchup with 21 & 17, he did shoot just 8-18 from the floor. Turner meanwhile played big, scoring 15 points with 13 rebounds and four blocks, hitting two of three from deep in the process.
Nembhard meanwhile scored 18 points with five rebounds, bringing the Pacers a much needed scoring punch in such a low-scoring affair while helping to hold guys like Lowry and Tyler Herro in single digits. He got some help from Aaron Nesmith, who had two steals and three blocks, finishing with 12 points and six boards. Hield led the way with 19, hitting 3-7 from deep.
A lineup change brought Nesmith back into the starting role while moving Jalen Smith onto the bench. Part of this was no doubt due to Miami’s lack of size, but could’ve also been a response to the recent struggles of Isaiah Jackson. As it turns out, Smith manned the backup center position on his own, playing respectably defensively with three steals and a block, but continued to come up empty on the offensive end, scoring just two on 0-4 shooting.
Bennedict Mathurin led the bench scoring with nine as he also continued to struggle on the offensive end. He did have a stretch in the second quarter where he had two incredibly strong takes to the basket that resulted in a field goal and two free throws, but he was unable to parlay that into a big outing. T.J. McConnell rounded out the bench scoring with six, dishing three assists.
In positive news, Chris Duarte is nearing his return and will be assigned to the Mad Ants as he works back into game shape. That may give Indiana another scoring option when the Pacers and Heat meet up again on December 23, but won’t be an immediate fix in the interim as the Pacers prepare to face a brutal schedule leading up to Christmas.
That will start on Wednesday with a rematch against the Golden State Warriors, trying to salvage a .500 home stand while trying to stay above .500 before hitting the road for four of five.