Compared to their recent blowout losses, tonight’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks was downright competitive for the Indiana Pacers. They couldn’t get much within 10, but at least kept it there for the duration of the game after the Hawks had quickly built an 18-ponit lead early in the second quarter.
Atlanta was firing on all cylinders to start the game, taking the lead for good on a 12-3 run two minutes into it. The Hawks hit 10 of 14 three point attempts in the first quarter putting up 44 points total. A minute into the second quarter and Atlanta had already reached 50 points, leading by 17.
Indiana would manage to work themselves back into it however, led by Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, using a 9-2 run to make it an 11-point game. Lack of defense (especially around the three point arc) and unforced turnovers kept the run from continuing, but the deficit remained 11 at the half despite allowing 74 points in the first half for the third consecutive game.
Things improved marginally in the third quarter when Jalen Smith would cut the game to six late in the third, but that would be as close as the Pacers would get, falling behind by 12 at the end of the third and as many as 16 in the fourth. They’d claw back to within nine to end the game, allowing 130+ points for the third consecutive game.
The Hawks made 17 three pointers on the night, shooting nearly 55% from the floor, and outscored Indiana 50-36 in the paint, aided by a number of alley oops and 16 second chance points and scored 18 off of 14 Indiana turnovers. That appears to just be the norm for the Pacers to end out this season with just eight players available tonight again.
Fortunately for the Pacers, Atlanta weren’t nearly as staunch on the defensive end as Memphis and Toronto were, allowing the Pacers to at least kind of hang around. All eight players scored at least nine points with Haliburton leading the way with 13 of the team’s 32 assists.
Haliburton had a much better game tonight than he has in recent outings, stepping up as a scorer with 25 points, but also coming up with his 13-assist double double. He hit 4-9 from three point range, helping Indiana to an impressive 17-36 shooting night overall from deep.
The Pacers as a team were above 50% shooting for the first time in this losing streak, though again, they haven’t held a team under 50% shooting in this losing streak either. One thing they did do a solid job of was removing Trae Young as a lethal scoring threat, holding him to 14 points on 4-13 shooting, but they were unable to corral him as a playmaker. Young finished with 16 assists, helping create three 20-point scorers for Atlanta, including monster nights from Bogdan Bogdanovic (29 points), Kevin Heurter (22 points, 6 3PM), and Clint Capela (22 points, 15 rebounds).
Hield led way the with 26 points on an impressive 10-15 shooting, going 5-7 from deep. Keifer Sykes picked up starting minutes with Oshae Brissett out, hitting four triples of his own and finishing with 16. Goga Bitadze played extremely well at times tonight, scoring 14 with five rebounds and four assists.
Justin Anderson rounded out the starting five with nine points and five boards, finishing pretty much automatic inside the arc at 4-5. Off the bench, Lance Stephenson led the way with 13 points and three assists, scoring 10 in the fourth, including 6-6 as both teams quickly jumped into the penalty. Terry Taylor had 11 points while Smith finished with nine.
Though tonight was a much more watchable effort than some of the recent outings, it doesn’t appear there are going to be much in the way of wins to close out their final six games especially with guys continuing to shuffle in and out of the lineup due to injury. Indiana will wrap up their two-game homestand with a tough matchup against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, trying to figure out both how to play defense while having to contend with all things Nikola Jokic.