The losing streak extended in a number of areas for the Indiana Pacers tonight, including their 10th straight against the Milwaukee Bucks with an active Giannis Antetokounmpo. As the Pacers continued to play shorthanded even for them, none of that should be a surprise, but it proved to be one of their best outings against Milwaukee even as Antetokounmpo pieced together a 50-point masterpiece.
The flow of the game took on a familiar tone from the outset. After going up 8-6, the Pacers surrendered an 8-0 run that put the Bucks up six. That pattern would play out throughout the game, as each push to put the game out of reach by Milwaukee was reeled in just enough to begin the process all over again.
No doubt a healthy dose of three point shooting for the Pacers helped. Buddy Hield (briefly) put them ahead 48-46 midway through the second, their seventh as a team to that point. Hield finished off the half with the ninth of the half, making it a 69-63 game at the break. Hield continued to shoot well, hitting two more to open the third, bringing the Pacers to within two.
That proved to be more than enough of a run for Antetokounmpo, who responded with seven straight to extend the lead back out to nine. Lance Stephenson helped stem the tide, scoring and assisting to bring the game back to within four. With a minute remaining in the third, Tyrese Haliburton cut the deficit to one with his third three of the game.
That deficit wouldn’t last the quarter with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday putting a cap on the quarter with a pair of buckets, taking a five point lead into the fourth. Hield struck first for the Pacers to make it a 101-97 game, but that would be the last time they would have the game that close when an Antetokounmpo three kicked off a game sealing 9-0 run for the Bucks.
To Indiana’s credit, they would manage to keep the game within single digits even as Antetokounmpo inched closer to his 50-point night. The shooting just wasn’t there late for the Pacers, as good looks from Haliburton and Hield went astray, extending Indiana’s losing streak to seven games.
Water found its level in a big way for Hield in particular tonight, responding to his 1-13 night from three against Minnesota to put in 8-12 tonight. Hield finished with a season best 36, helping keep Indiana within striking distance throughout the night with his shot. Hield’s shooting made him quite efficient, totaling 36 in 20 shots, though that looks completely different next to Antetokounmpo’s 50 in 21 attempts.
The Pacers as a team shot the ball extremely well from deep, finishing 17-41. Though their three point shooting early helped them keep pace with Milwaukee’s equally hot shooting, the Pacers were able to gain ground in the second half with the Bucks cooling off from deep.
Unfortunately, the Bucks were able to make up for it in other ways, not only in scoring 62 paint points, but in outscoring Indiana 22-8 at the free throw line. Though the Bucks did get in 11 more attempts overall (including 18 alone from Antetokounmpo), there was no use lamenting over the difference when Indiana was an abysmal 8-19 at the line, a crucial misstep in an otherwise competitive game.
Haliburton was a bit quieter tonight than he was against Minnesota, with Milwaukee making an early effort to remove him from the equation by forcing Hield into a primary ball handler roll. The tactic worked for as long as it took Hield to find his shot, at which point Haliburton was able to open up a bit more, finishing the night with 17 points and eight assists, making so many things look easy in the process by getting four steals, helping Indiana to a 21-16 advantage in points off turnovers.
With Chris Duarte out, Jalen Smith got his first start with the Pacers, hitting a pair of threes to open the game. He’d have a solid enough night when he was on the floor, scoring 11 with seven rebounds, but played just 17 minutes, eventually fouling out. Goga Bitadze also had a tough time with Antetokounmpo, but did reach double figures himself with 12 point sand six boards, including some excellent passing as part of his four assists.
Off the bench, the Pacers were led by Terry Taylor and Keifer Sykes, with both scoring 10. Sykes struggled shooting overall, but did put in a couple of big threes in the second quarter while Taylor bullied his way to his double figure game, shooting 5-7 and pulling in nine rebounds. Stephenson had eight points and four assists, going 4-7 inside the arc. Even Tristan Thompson got involved, scoring nine with five boards in his best outing thus far with Indiana.
The Pacers will have one more game before the All-Star Break, heading home to host the Washington Wizards tomorrow night. Indiana’s play these last two games has trended in a positive direction despite their injuries and quality opposition, but will have an opportunity to head into the break on a high note even though the Wizards are 3-3 in their last six after stumbling below .500 on a six game losing streak.