No lead was safe tonight between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers, both sides bringing everything to the table offensively in a certified barnburner. The game featured 16 lead changes and 11 ties as the Pacers came out thanks to a strong close to the game, though perhaps it was also just their turn to make a run.
One of the big reasons both teams were able to continuously overtake the other on the scoreboard was due to reliable plays on both ends. For Cleveland, it was a devastating attack inside; they scored 72 points in the paint and had 25 second chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
For the Pacers, they shot a season high 61.3% from three point range, a number they got to quite literally from the jump. Off of the tip, Buddy Hield pulled up from three with 11:58 on the clock, connecting on the shot a second later, which set the NBA record for fastest three pointer in a game since the league began tracking play-by-play stats in 1996-97.
Buddy Hield wasted NO TIME after the tip pic.twitter.com/V3ugqywjIE— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 30, 2022
It’s only fitting the record was already a Pacers-held one, owned by Reggie Miller prior to tonight. Hield wouldn’t let up from there, continuing his scorching three point shooting as the game progressed, Indiana building a quick 13-7 lead. That be the first lead to evaporate into thin air following a 9-2 Cleveland run.
After some back-and-forth action to continue the first, the Cavs would gain the upper hand to end the quarter, taking a 34-29 lead into the second quarter. Bennedict Mathurin would lead the way to start the quarter, scoring six to trim the lead to one. It was around this time that Indiana’s shooting really took off with six different players connecting from three.
This wouldn’t be enough to build any kind of lead, but it proved useful when the Cavaliers again seized control of things to end the quarter, outscoring Indiana on a 12-3 run. Fortunately, Aaron Nesmith was able to race the length of the floor in time to connect on a layup at the buzzer, cutting the lead to four at halftime.
Nesmith opened the third quarter with a three, leading into three straight triples from Hield to put Indiana on top by three. Cleveland reversed the scoreboard in a flash, scoring nine straight when Nesmith broke a three-minute scoring drought for the Pacers with his second three of the quarter.
The deficit remained three when Tyrese Haliburton knocked down two straight threes, this time putting Indiana ahead 89-86.
Haliburton had his hand in the ensuing run, dishing two assists and hitting his third triple of the quarter to push the Pacers out ahead by eight at 96-88. Donovan Mitchell keyed up a response, hitting a three and following a stop, got creative by tossing the ball to himself off the backboard, recovering a blocked shot, and eventually finding Isaac Okoro for a soaring dunk.
The wild sequence, featuring a travel by Mitchell as he tried to traverse the paint around Myles Turner, caught the ire of Rick Carlisle, who was promptly ejected from the game on two lightning quick technicals. Mitchell split the technical foul shots, but scored on the following possession, instantly erasing Indiana’s eight point lead.
Haliburton ended the quarter with a three, but it didn’t slow the Cavaliers run to start the fourth, pushing the game to a game high seven point lead on an 18-3 run. Out of a timeout, Mathurin worked Indiana back into it, scoring six straight, four on free throws, eventually tying things up at 113-113 with 6:36 remaining.
Hield and Haliburton returned to the game 20 seconds later, but Jarrett Allen took control inside, hitting back-to-back layups to extend the lead to four. Hield found Turner for his second three of the game, then picked up another assist by finding Nesmith, throwing down a massive dunk against Allen to give Indiana a 121-119 lead.
AARON NESMITH JUST DETONATED.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 30, 2022
At that point, the Pacers took charge. Turner blocked two shots in the next 90 seconds, Haliburton finished a three point play, and Nesmith scored two more, pushing the lead to out to six. The Cavaliers still a run in them yet, cutting the lead to three with 1:24 remaining. Haliburton missed the shot, but in the fight for the rebound, Indiana was rewarded possession out of bounds, setting up Nesmith for the bucket.
Nesmith would corral Mitchell’s miss on the other end, icing the game after being fouled. It wound up being a season high in points for Indiana at 135, getting there on a season best 56.5% shooting from the field, 19-31 from three, and an impressive 20-21 from the line, including 6-6 in the final minute.
That shooting helped erase a less than optimal defensive performance in which the Pacers got no closer to solving their rebounding issues in allowing 17 offensive boards and losing by 12. They also allowed Cleveland to shoot 52% and 43% from three. That led to a first half high in fast break points for Cleveland at 18.
Haliburton led the way with 29 points and nine assists, shooting 10-19 overall and 6-8 from three. Hield meanwhile had 25, hitting 5-6 from deep, a number that could’ve been higher had he not had his foot on the line in two of his 10 field goals. While Haliburton is shooting an impressive 52% from three these last five games, Hield is an unfathomable 24-34 in that stretch, shooting 70.6%.
That’s of course a big reason why the Pacers are 4-1 in their last five, but they don’t get there tonight with big scoring nights from Nesmith and Mathurin. Mathurin scored 23 off the bench, leading the way with nine free throw attempts while Nesmith had 22 on 7-10 shooting, taking six shots from the line himself.
Turner also had a big night, picking up a double double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, coming with striking distance of a triple double with a season high six blocks. The latter number is a welcome sight for Turner, who despite averaging 2.2 blocks on the year, had totaled just seven in the last seven games.
Off the bench, Oshae Brissett provided a nice scoring punch with seven points while Jalen Smith put in five, blocking a shot of his own. T.J. McConnell scored seven points with four assists, holding things in check in the fourth after Cleveland had taken the lead in the fourth. Andrew Nembhard also had four assists, both guards hitting a three.
Indiana continues to win, their fourth in five games, staying perfect in their current homestand. At 19-17, they move up to sixth in the East, but it remains a shaky position, sitting just a game and a half up from ninth. Indiana will wrap up the 2022 portion of their schedule when they host the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday afternoon, a 3 p.m. Eastern tip for New Year’s Eve.