All the Indiana Pacers needed to undo three quarters of successful play was three minutes to start the fourth quarter. A putrid and inexcusable effort allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to pile on an avalanche of points, outscoring Indiana 19-0, extending the Pacers’ losing streak to Eastern Conference teams to 13.
The Pacers did a good job responding to Cleveland pushes throughout the night, but that came crashing down with a whirlwind of three pointers from Cedi Osman and Kevin Love. It was an infuriating case of water finding its level for the Cavs, all after the Pacers limited them to just 36 first half points.
Cleveland shot just 4-23 in the first quarter, scoring just 12 points, including zero off of seven offensive rebounds. It was about as perfect a start as the Pacers could hope for on the defensive end, even if they themselves could only muster up 27 points. Part of the reason for that? Well, they traded Caris LeVert to these same Cavs just prior to tipoff.
LeVert drove the offense for Indiana in their loss to Chicago, and while they were in enough of a groove to eventually build a 34-14 lead early in the second quarter, there were definitely stretches where the Pacers just had no real go-to on the offensive end, especially with Domantas Sabonis finding himself in foul trouble in his return to action tonight.
Even still, the Pacers were good enough to keep Cleveland in their rearview for much of the night. When the Cavs cut the lead to five on a 17-2 run, the Pacers responded with 9-2 run of their own to help them to a double figure halftime lead. In the third, Chris Duarte provided that offensive punch, to keep another Cleveland push from finding enough legs.
Turnovers bit the Pacers late in the third, allowing the Cavaliers to make it a four point game late in the quarter when Duarte beat the buzzer on a leaning triple that put Indiana on top 68-61 heading into the fourth.
At that point, well, look, we don’t have to get into it, but let’s just say the Pacers didn’t lead by seven for much longer. Though the Pacers did have 68-61 lead, they still only had 68 points to show from three quarters of work in a game that sat at 57-49 over halfway through the quarter.
That lack of scoring came back on the Pacers in an instant as Cleveland took their first lead and effectively ran away with it late to finish off a 33-point turnaround. Duarte finished with 22 points, 13 of those in the third. Duane Washington Jr. led the bench with 17, but did so on 6-15 shooting.
Duarte’s play in the third was the only time all night the Pacers had any real scoring threat, something that will be becoming a harsh reality in a post-LeVert world. Justin Holiday was the only other double figure scorer on the night with 10, shooting 2-7 from deep. Though all 10 Pacers scored, a stretch of rebounding fight from Terry Taylor and a nice start from Keifer Sykes in his return to the rotation seemed the only particular bright spots all night from everyone else, Sabonis included.
Sabonis had nine points and 11 rebounds, struggling both against Cleveland’s bigs as well as getting back into the flow of things. His dunk over Jarrett Allen in the third felt like it took such a long time to come to fruition in the game that it just didn’t seem like there was much left in the tank.
From the innocuous to the downright poor, Goga Bitadze and Lance Stephenson had their own issues throughout the night, totaling just eight points on 3-10 shooting, which feels much better than the output suggested. Oshae Brisett at least went to work on the glass, coming up with seven rebounds to overcome his own poor shooting night, hitting a three on 1-5 shooting.
The Pacers have a seemingly endless stream of pitiful losses this season, but tonight’s loss was pretty high on the bummer list. This embarrassing finish may have kept the collective arms of Pacers fans outstretched to the Gatsby-esque green light of lottery hope, but it sucks and also did a poor job helping the draft stock of the lottery protected first they acquired from Cleveland, so whatever.
The good news is the Pacers will get do this all over again on Friday, this time likely facing up against LeVert at home against Cleveland. In the meantime, Indiana will wrap up their two game road trip against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday before prepping for maybe more transition at the trade deadline on Thursday.