The losing streak is over for the Indiana Pacers as they held off the Washington Wizards late to pick up their first win of February and their first win against the Eastern Conference in 2022. The Pacers needed everyone they could get to come away with this one with nine available players, six of those reaching double figures on the night.
Indiana had a tough time contending with Washington’s three point shooting all night. The Wizards were a comfortable 17-37 from deep while the Pacers found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, hitting just four for the entire game. That difference made itself aware early when a pair of threes from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope pushed the Wizards out to an early 21-14 lead.
Duane Washington Jr. keyed up a response with Indiana’s first triple of the night, kicking off a 10-0 Pacers run that gave them the lead late in the quarter. The Wizards would tie it up to end the first, but would never regain the lead after the Pacers opened the second on a 6-0 run.
While the three point shot was absent throughout the game, their success inside was not. Tristan Thompson led the charge in the paint, scoring 10 of his 12 first half points in the second quarter, helping to maintain a double figure advantage for the Pacers into the late stages of the second quarter.
A strong close to the quarter again benefited the Wizards, hitting back-to-back threes to make it a five point game at the break. Five straight Pacers points to open the third doubled the lead and the final three of the night for Indiana pushed them ahead by 12 midway through the quarter when Tyrese Haliburton began to feed Terry Taylor again and again.
Taylor scored 10 points in the final six minutes of the third, receiving excellent passes from Haliburton on four of his five assists. Their success at the basket made Indiana more than willing to trade two for threes as the Wizards continued to pile in the buckets from deep, holding an eight point lead heading into the fourth.
For the first time in the game, the Wizards followed up a strong close to a quarter with an equally strong push to open the next one. They took full advantage of Indiana running into a cold stretch, chipping away at the lead when Caldwell-Pope hit a three to make it a 95-94 game with five minutes left.
The Wizards simply did not have an answer for Taylor, allowing him to score four more as he and Haliburton scored the next six. In the meantime, Washington’s shooting finally began to sputter, allowing the Pacers to extend the lead back out to seven. That wouldn’t last long, however, with Caldwell-Pope continuing to shoot well, twice bringing the Wizards to within two heading into the final minute.
Haliburton’s passing opened things up for Indiana up until their final field goal, when he drove to the basket, looking as if he would take a contested shot at the rim, only to look away as he dished to a cutting Oshae Brissett, throwing down the dunk that put Indiana ahead 107-103 with 21 seconds remaining.
Though that dunk would serve effectively as the dagger, the Wizards weren’t done putting in points, twice making it a three-point game, but Hield and Haliburton did what the Pacers as a team couldn’t do throughout the night: hit free throws. The pair went 6-6 to ice the game, improving their free throw shooting to 19-29 on the night.
Tonight’s win was the first of the season when the Pacers allow at least 16 made threes, a feat they wouldn’t have pulled off if not for their complete dominance in the paint. Indiana piled in a season high 74 paint points, shooting 71.2% in the process. Their limited big man rotation went 25-32 inside.
Haliburton finished the night with 14 assists, finding Taylor, Thompson, and Brissett on 12 of them, all at the basket. It was an impressive showing from Haliburton, who had find other ways to succeed with a lot of shots falling short on the night, but the ability for guys to finish consistently went a long way to getting Indiana the win.
The aforementioned trio of bigs combined for 52 points, led by Taylor with 18 and nine rebounds. Brissett and Thompson were no slouches themselves, each scoring 17 with six rebounds. Jalen Smith was almost a bit of an odd man out in that regard, but he scored eight, nearly all of them coming in the paint himself.
That success helped a ton in alleviating the complete lack of shooting on the night. Hield would finish with 15, but would shoot 1-5 from deep. He did have seven assists, however, setting up numerous guys in jumper situations. Lance Stephenson had four assists himself (with three steals), scoring 11. Washington finished with six, providing a much needed triple early as he struggles with his shot.
The Pacers head into the All-Star break by picking up their 20th win, the latest point in the season to do so since 1989. They drafted seventh that year for those keeping track, but currently hold strong with the fifth best lottery odds, two games worse than Sacramento.
In the meantime, the win surely helps the players find some positive vibes as they head into the week-long break. The Indiana representation in Cleveland for All-Star Weekend will be limited with Chris Duarte expected to miss the Rising Stars Challenge, but Haliburton will take part on Friday for Team Isiah, joining Anthony Edwards, Desmond Bane, and Saddiq Bey among others in the event’s new mini-tournament setting.
Awaiting their return from the break will be a bit of a roster change, as Thompson will be waived before joining Chicago after the break. The Pacers, sans Thompson, will hope to have some help up front as they host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday the 25th. It will begin a stretch of four in five where Indiana will be the team with the better record, setting up an interesting series of games right out of the gate.