Though the Indiana Pacers have managed to turn injuries into a fun and exciting product in recent games, they caught up with them tonight, resulting in an incredibly disappointing late game loss to the Orlando Magic. The Pacers were once again without Oshae Brissett and Goga Bitadze, giving Isaiah Jackson his second start of the season.
Twenty-two second after the tip, however, Jackson was limping off the floor and to the locker room after suffering a sprained ankle on a rebound attempt. Though he was initially considered questionable to return, he was downgraded to out after the half.
At the time he was ruled out, it didn’t seem like that would have all that much impact on the game. The Pacers had more or less taken care of the Magic to that point, building a steady 67-53 halftime lead behind scorching three point shooting and impressive ball control. Torrey Craig hit four of Indiana’s 10 first half threes and the Pacers committed just three first half turnovers.
More impressively, the Pacers were able to hold serve inside, keeping Orlando from really taking advantage of the massive size mismatch that left 6’5” Terry Taylor their best big man option. That changed in the second half, when the Magic really began to outwork the Pacers around the basket.
The Pacers were able to keep the Magic at arms length for much of the quarter due to their three point shooting, building a game high 17-point lead midway through the quarter at 81-64. At that point, a sticky offense began to crop up for Indiana, slowly allowing Orlando to chip away.
The Magic scored eight straight, then eight more to make it just a six point game with 2:33 remaining in the third. Down four in the closing minute of the quarter, Jamahl Mosley turned to Robin Lopez to tower over Taylor and the Pacers front line, tying the game at 88-88 early in the fourth on a pair of inside buckets.
Indiana adjusted enough to draw Lopez into some quick fouls, leading to a 6-0 Indiana run to quickly settle things and give the Pacers some space on the scoreboard. From there, neither team inspired much confidence offensively, though the Pacers were able to inch the lead up to nine with 3:47 in the game.
A three point play from Franz Wagner and back-to-back threes from Gary Harris immediately tied up the game at 108-108. Taylor would throw the ball away on the inbound, giving Cole Anthony the ball and a two point lead after a trip to the free throw line. Caris LeVert kept the Pacers on the board with back-to-back jumpers, but another three-point play from Wagner in between them gave the Magic a one point lead.
LeVert’s play throughout the night was, to put it kindly, frustrating. While he managed to hit a few key buckets, he did his fair share of shooting the Pacers into long droughts. His back-to-back misses on one possession would more or less seal the loss, however, as the Magic went back to the line to go up three.
The Magic would then take the opportunity to employ the wretched and embarrassing “foul when up three” method, extending the final 10 seconds of the game into a tiring and exhausting free throw shooting exhibition that did nothing but secure Orlando’s already secure win without any of the excitement that comes with late game NBA action.
After taking the amount of time that could be spent listening to a King Crimson song to wrap it up, the Pacers found themselves back in the loss column, getting outscored 66-51 in the second half. Orlando finished the night with 60 paint points, putting in work against a severely undersized Pacers team by winning the rebounding battle as well.
Indiana meanwhile found the three point shot predictably betraying them, going 1-6 from deep in the fourth quarter. Even as the Magic actively sucked the fun out of the game, the Pacers would’ve been in a tough spot had they managed to force overtime with Taylor fouling out following LeVert’s two misses, leaving even fewer answers inside.
Taylor came away with a tremendous game, however, scoring 24 points and pulling in 16 rebounds on 10-15 shooting. Six of those came on the offensive end, nearly all of Indiana’s seven offensive boards. Taylor logged 37 minutes, most among the Pacers with Craig, coming close to doubling his 56 total minutes prior to tonight.
Craig scored 22 points on 8-16 shooting, hitting a career best five threes, but went scoreless after pushing Indiana’s lead to 14 late in the third quarter, taking just two shots in the fourth. Not surprisingly, a number of those shots went to LeVert, who was 3-9 in the final period, finishing 10-24 on the night, closing out a 26-point night with some late free throw action.
It was a typical kind of night for LeVert, piecing together some positive offensive play in bursts, but largely struggling in converting on some rather easy looks. His final attempt in the two-miss possession didn’t even come close to going in, this after LeVert left five points on the board at the end of the first half by missing two flagrant free throws and a pullup three.
Overcoming those off-stretches proved to be a tall order for the Pacers as a lot of guys had some quiet nights that were also highlighted by just a little bit here and there. Stephenson did come through with a solid game, however, scoring 14 points with six assists, but played just 16 minutes despite pumping up the weather-limited attendance.
Justin Holiday scored 13, hitting 3-4 from three, his fewest three point attempts in the last five games. Chris Duarte meanwhile did well converting from deep as well, hitting both of his attempts, but struggled inside at just 1-9, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Pacers drop below .500 at home and see their Eastern Conference losing streak extend to 11 games. Their next four will come against East teams, starting with a home matchup against the Chicago Bulls on Friday.