Though their loss to Cleveland was only tangentially related to trades made prior to tipoff, tonight’s was far more affected by such decisions after a busy afternoon resulted in a major shakeup of the Indiana Pacers roster. Sending Domantas Sabonis, Justin Holiday, and Jeremy would leave the on-court Pacers with just eight active players against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks, a team that took on a tough loss on Sunday, came out with a purpose, putting it to the Pacers from the jump. Atlanta shot 7-9 from three point range and scored 40 points, putting up 36 more in the second to finish the half shooting 66% from the floor and 10-14 from deep.
By the time both teams headed to the locker room, the Pacers trailed 76-50. For as well as Atlanta shot it from deep, the Pacers were quite the opposite. Keifer Sykes hit the first triple of the night for Indiana nearly halfway through the second quarter as the Pacers finished 2-12 for the half.
Shorthanded or not, Indiana would’ve had a tough time with tonight’s Hawks team, but the lack of players simply exacerbated the problem. The Pacers had 11 offensive rebounds in the half, but despite many of them resulting in solid second looks, they had just eight second chance points.
Things did improve somewhat in the third quarter...eventually. The Hawks extended their lead out to 31 with a John Collins dunk when the first real semblance of rim protection from Goga Bitadze on the night helped to slow down the Atlanta offense enough for the Pacers to respond with 10 straight points.
Bitadze had two of his three blocks in the quarter when he hit a three pointer to cut the lead to 20. Torrey Craig emphatically followed a Lance Stephenson miss to bring Indiana to within 18 at 89-71. That would prove the high water mark with Bitadze coming out of the game, opening up things enough for Atlanta to finish the quarter on a 17-4 run that erased all of Indiana’s progress.
The Pacers would shave 10 points off of that deficit in the fourth quarter, opening up for 37 points to finish the night with a loss that won’t be nearly as memorable as the transaction that took place earlier in the day.
Chris Duarte led the way with 25 points and four assists, shooting 8-16 from the floor but just 2-6 from deep. He would Get to the line seven times, connecting on each of them, but it was a rare sight that he was only third in free throw attempts on a night the Pacers outscored the Hawks 28-12 at the line.
Stephenson would lead the way at the line with 12 attempts, finishing the night with 24 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. The totals themselves were impressive, but his play was largely erratic up until the late stages of the game. All eight of his assists were to three players, some missed opportunities keeping him a step shy of a double double (or triple).
The uneven play wasn’t limited to Stephenson or Duarte though. No one outside of Bitadze shot above 50% on the night and he wrapped up his performance with 14 points on 6-11 shooting. Bitadze was especially solid in the second half, giving the Pacers some much needed interior defense.
Oshae Brissett was the closest to 50% shooting at 3-7, but though he had his share of misses, he pulled in four of his six boards on the offensive glass, getting to the line 10 times, making eight. Terry Taylor uncharacteristically struggled around the basket, scoring seven on 3-9 shooting, but was able to rack up the rebounds in the meantime, 10 total and six offensive.
Duane Washington Jr. and Sykes each had rough nights shooting, combining for 7-26, each needing a lot to get to 10 points on the night. Washington did lead the way in an impressive night for the Pacers in steals, picking up three of the team’s 10, helping them to 13 fast break points. Craig also had a pair, scoring seven with eight rebounds.
In the trade earlier this afternoon, the Pacers acquired promising second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton and sharpshooter Buddy Hield. Tristan Thompson was also a part of the deal that cost the Pacers a second round pick in addition to Sabonis, Holiday, and Lamb. The absence of those three was felt in a big way tonight, but it was a justified cost to move the team forward.
Those three are expected to return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse on March 23 with the Kings, but in the meantime, the trade deadline is still nearly two days away. The Pacers may not be done retooling their roster for the rest of the year, but also won’t play until the day following the deadline, when they welcome back Caris LeVert and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.