Clutch minutes continue to befuddle the Indiana Pacers, suffering their 18th loss of four points or less in almost impossible fashion, losing to the Sacramento Kings in the final second. In a game that went back and forth all night, the Pacers appeared to have things under control with less than 20 seconds left, leading by one.
Buddy Hield then attempted to escape the Sacramento defense looking to force a turnover before fouling in the backcourt when Hield created the turnover for them by losing the handle out of bounds. The Kings then got a good look from Trey Lyles from three, but even that miss wasn’t enough, when an inability to corral the rebound gave Damian Jones a wide open look at the basket for the putback layup and the win.
The Pacers came up short late, but had struggled throughout the fourth quarter to settle into anything consistent on offense. They scored just 20 points in the quarter, a game low, which proved lethal after they rolled to a double figure lead in the third quarter. The lead, 89-78 with two minutes in the third, disappeared quickly when the Kings ran off 12 straight, regaining the lead early in the fourth courtesy of Jeremy Lamb.
While they would regain the lead with numerous opportunities to make it a two-possession game, the Pacers could never land the decisive blow, which proved costly against a strong late-game push from Davion Mitchell and the Kings. Indiana was just 7-22 in the quarter, including 0-4 from Tyrese Haliburton, who just could not find anything in the final period despite some solid looks.
Haliburton finished the night just 4-14 shooting with 13 points, but did play well outside of that. He had 15 assists and three steals, all with zero turnovers. The Pacers as a team moved the ball extremely well, dishing 34 assists on 42 baskets, but that was somehow not enough.
So much of the straight stats make it hard to fathom a loss. The Pacers only allowed four offensive rebounds to Sacramento, outscoring the Kings 13-4 in second chance points. They were much better in transition (21-12 fast break points) and even won the turnover battle. They even did solid job limiting Sacramento’s three point shooting, holding them to 5-26 after a scorching 7-11 start.
None of that came through in the end for the Pacers, who still struggled throughout the night getting stops. The Kings shot 62% in the first half and when the shots stopped falling for them in the third, they regrouped and simply took it to Indiana featuring a lot of extra effort plays from Donte DiVencenzo in particular.
All of that would be a lot sadder if the loss didn’t benefit the Pacers in terms of lottery odds, but where there’s potentially a win in the long term, it didn’t make the play in the fourth any easier to see unfold in real time. Part of the issues no doubt had to do with availability. Isaiah Jackson returned to action tonight from concussion protocol, but was limited to just seven minutes when he left the game with a headache. Jalen Smith was also out tonight with an illness.
Goga Bitadze and Terry Taylor each performed extremely well. Bitadze had 20 points and nine rebounds while Taylor finished with 13 & 7, but that extra dimension offered by Jackson and Smith was sorely missing against Sacramento’s size, lending Jones and Alex Len solid nights, not to mention a 22-point outing from Chimezie Metu.
Outside of the shocking turnover (his fourth of the night), Hield did play well tonight, leading the Pacers with 25 points on 10-18 shooting with five threes. He also had seven assists and four steals. Oshae Brissett finished with a 10 point, 10 rebound double, but had to work through some early foul trouble, struggling to settle into the game as a whole.
Off the bench, Duane Washington Jr. scored 11 points while Lance Stephenson reached double figures with 10, highlighting his night with first quarter buzzer-beater.
The loss spoiled Indiana’s chance at their first three game winning streak since December, dropping them back behind Sacramento in the standings at 25-48. It’s also their 21st home loss of the year, locking them into a losing home record for the second straight season, but at least makes the end of the home court winning streak feel a bit more official after last year’s wonkiness.
The Pacers will hit the road for a pair of games against the 1995 expansion franchises, starting with the Memphis Grizzlies tomorrow night. The Pacers really took one on the chin against Memphis last week, but will face a Grizzlies team that is also on the second half of a back-to-back coming off of a thrilling win over Brooklyn.