Ignoring the final three quarters will go a long way in determining the overall success of the new look Indiana Pacers especially when the ending is the same as it ever was. They even managed to follow a shockingly similar path as to their loss last Sunday to the Cleveland Cavaliers by blowing another 20-point lead to the Cavs, an impressive feat to be sure given the number of moving parts on both rosters in that time period.
For all things considered, it was a successful debut for Indiana’s four new players, especially in that opening quarter, when they blitzed Cleveland’s defense with speed and precision, finishing with 47 points in the quarter, shooting 71% in the quarter and 10-12 from three point range.
After that, the Cavs simply did what the better team does against a young team (that is also playing effectively their first game together); steadily close the gap and eventually overtaking Indiana in the fourth, closing out the game on a steady diet of Caris LeVert getting to his spot. For all of Indiana’s success in the opening quarter, they shot just 33% in the second half, committing turnover after turnover against Cleveland’s locked-in defense, mustering up just 39 points in that time.
The first signs of concern for Indiana’s razor thin 21-point lead came in the second quarter, when in addition to Indiana’s unsustainable shooting performance in the first shockingly proving itself to be unstainable, the Cavaliers lived in the paint and the line, baiting the young Pacers into foul after foul to inch themselves back into the game.
The Pacers did well to respond to Cleveland’s third quarter runs and had appeared to find solid footing again when following a LeVert three (for Cleveland), Oshae Brissett hit a three and blocked Cedi Osman, leading to a Tyrese Haliburton three, extending Indiana’s lead back to 15 in quick order.
Another Brissett three, in addition to some Tristan Thompson action, gave Indiana a 96-82 lead when Dean Wade drew a flagrant foul on a three pointer, allowing the Cavs to close out the quarter on an effective 6-0 run. Lance Stephenson temporarily fought back the Cavs to open the fourth with a pair of buckets and an assist, but Cleveland’s defense proved too much, stymieing anything resembling an offense for Indiana, taking the lead, and the win, on a 13-2 run.
It was an incredibly disappointing outcome following all of Indiana’s success up to that point, but on display was justification for every mode Kevin Pritchard and the front office made leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline. After all, if you’re going to lose games the exact same way regardless of who’s on the team, it might as well be with players you can see future potential with.
Highlighting that success was none other than Haliburton, Indiana’s blue-chip acquisition. He finished with 23 points and six assists on 9-15 shooting, hitting four three pointers, including 5-5 in the first quarter for 12 points. Haliburton’s playmaking is exciting, but so too is his shot making and an ability to make some tough shots.
The Cavs eventually found success against Haliburton’s pace by grinding the game to a halt, forcing him into what would be six turnovers. It allowed Cleveland to force 23 total for the game, tightening up what was initially a massive advantage in points off turnovers for Indiana to a 28-27 victory.
Goga Bitadze was the biggest casualty of the early pace, picking up an early foul, getting stuffed at the rim multiple times, and breaking up some of what Haliburton was looking to do. Though he would play well enough in the third quarter to provide Indiana with some much needed defense, as a whole, it was a rough go for him, eventually leading to him finishing with just 10 minutes.
Isaiah Jackson’s return did prove to be a much more natural fit in what the Pacers did in terms of pace and flash, finishing with 11 points and three steals on 5-7 shooting, even getting Chris Duarte involved in the playmaking for a nice alley oop.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s ankle injury would flare up, keeping him out of the game following halftime. That would eventually lead to Thompson taking the floor. Though his play was a breath of fresh air in terms of veteran execution, there was a noticeable lack of anything resembling explosion as the Pacers’ offense looked for some help inside.
lmbo we'll call this the "oh ... that is *not* richaun holmes" possession pic.twitter.com/SRVpkRzeDW— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) February 12, 2022
Though it’s nice for the Pacers to have a guy like Thompson to give them minutes, simply playing those minutes was the bulk of what he provided. With Jackson’s availability up in the air, that may force the Pacers to again dip into emergency big rations. Fortunately, Jalen Smith may be able to provide some help there after also coming up with a solid Pacers debut of 12 points on 5-7 shooting, hitting a pair of first quarter threes.
Buddy Hield had a bit of an interesting game himself, flashing some actual passing in his Pacers debut, finishing one shy of his career high in assists with eight. Eight assists also happened to be the same number he had in his final 10 games with Sacramento, just four in his final nine.
Hield did well at times, hitting four triples for 16 points, but of course found himself within some tunnel vision stretches that predictably did not go as well as similar stretches from LeVert went, not that they typically went that well themselves. Hield also tied his season high in rebounds with nine.
For as welcome a sight as Indiana’s newest players were, there was an interesting spark among at least two of tonight’s starters. Duarte was fantastic early, shooting well and moving the ball, finishing with 18 points, including eight straight in the opening period to give Indiana the lead for at least a good while. Brissett, however, had one of his best games of the season, playing loose and free to the tune of 18 points and 11 rebounds, blocking two shots, and hitting a trio of threes, including the massive stretch in the third quarter to extend Indiana’s lead back to double figures.
While tonight’s game had a fresh, season debut type of energy about it, their record wasn’t reset in all of the roster shakeup as their losing streak extends to five games. It also marks the 15th straight loss against the East, an inexplicable streak that somehow keeps going. There won’t be any relief from it in the immediate future as they host the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.