A disappointing conclusion marred an otherwise impressive comeback by the Indiana Pacers against the Minnesota Timberwolves, overcoming a 23-point second quarter deficit to eventually go up by eight in the third, but an inability to build it any further allowed Minnesota to once again regain the lead and hold off a furious finish from Myles Turner in particular.
The start of tonight’s game was everything they warn you about in end of road trip games as the Pacers not only stumbled out of the gate but somehow managed to tie their own shoelaces together as they tried to get back up. Perplexing turnovers, shots left short, missed free throws, and bad fouls allowed the Timberwolves to lead by 19 towards the tail end of the quarter as the Pacers wrapped up the quarter shooting 29%.
It didn’t get any better to start the second either, with elongated video reviews disrupting the flow, giving the Wolves an opportunity to push that advantage up to 23 at 47-24 with 8:16 left in the half. Buddy Hield dialed in a much needed three and hit a second a minute later, suddenly giving Indiana life in a 9-2 run that quickly made it a 16-point game.
Hield would hit two more in the quarter as the Pacers continued to storm back, outscoring Minnesota 44-28 in the quarter to trail by just two at the break. The Pacers shot 65% in the second, including 7-11 from three point range, a run that wouldn’t slow much in the third as Turner whirled in a pair of layups to help Indiana gain their first lead of the game.
Hield, combined with a rejuvenated Tyrese Haliburton pushed the lead out to eight, including a rather interesting sequence in which Haliburton passed up a shot at the rim to dribble out to three point range, leaving the Timberwolves defense in shambles to hit the three.
well, three is more than two. ♂️ pic.twitter.com/LOH7hBc1Jq— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 8, 2022
Three point shots brought them into this game and it would sure play a part in taking them out of it, however, as they would proceed to miss their next four attempts. That inability to deliver a knockout blow midway through the quarter gave the Timberwolves just enough life, cutting the deficit to two and never allowing Indiana to truly regain their footing again even despite back-to-back triples from Hield and Andrew Nembhard extending it to seven.
Minnesota closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to tie it up, rolling that over into the fourth to regain the lead before Isaiah Jackson snapped the streak at 11. D’Angelo Russell came to life at this point, scoring 13 points in the quarter to push the lead out as high as nine midway through the period before Haliburton calmed things with his fifth three of the night.
After Russell put in a pair of threes to make it a seven point game, Turner stepped into three straight threes, eventually tying it up at 115-115 with 50 seconds remaining. Free throw shooting made all the difference from there, with Hield fouling Rudy Gobert, hitting both. On the opposite end, Hield attempted to drive on Gobert on the switch, getting ahead of him, but laying it in, a fatal mistake against an elite shot blocker, easily swatting it away and sending Anthony Edwards to the line for two free throws he would make.
A botched inbounds play would be all the end of things for Indiana tonight, falling in their final night of the road trip. In the first half, the Pacers got to the line 24 times, missing six of them. That inconsistency didn’t appear to be a big issue while they were trailing so much, but it wound up being a huge problem late, especially considering they had zero attempts in the second half while the Wolves made all 10 of theirs.
As noted by his involvement in the game, Haliburton did return tonight after missing the last two outings with a sore groin. It was a completely different Haliburton than was on display in the two games prior where he had just 23 points and 14 assists on 9-29 shooting. He was every bit the familiar Haliburton tonight, scoring 26 points with 15 assists, including 5-9 from three point range and three steals.
Six of those assists went directly to Hield, all of which resulted in three pointers. Hield finished with seven made on the night, also scoring 26. He was a key part in bringing the Pacers out of the doldrums, but unfortunately couldn’t close things out against Gobert late.
Turner meanwhile, very nearly did close things out on his own in hitting those three late triples. He scored 23 points with eight rebounds and four blocks and the Pacers needed every minute he could offer with both Goga Bitadze and Jackson offering little resistance against Gobert and the Timberwolves, neither player pulling in a rebound.
That played to a long night of bench struggles. They scored 24 points total, but 14 of those came from Bennedict Mathurin, who needed all 16 of his attempts to get to those 14 points. He missed his first three free throws and was 1-5 from three. There are worse ways to play as a rookie at the end of a lengthy road trip, but it will be interesting to see if he can shake off some of the struggles in Indiana’s upcoming home stand.
The home stand will be a four-game one, the third of four such scheduling quirks already. They finished 2-5 on this extended West Coast swing, a record that leaves a lot to be desired, but one that wasn’t without a fair share of positives in some otherwise dreadful games.
This homestand will feature a unique challenge every night for the Pacers, facing four opponents they’ve previously beaten on the year, including three teams in Brooklyn, Miami, and Golden State that will be expecting bounce back wins against Indiana. That will begin against the Washington Wizards on Friday though with the season series notched at 1-1.