The Indiana Pacers brought enough on the offensive end, but failed to take into account the defensive side of the floor, stalling each and every one of their comeback attempts in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards through an inability to string together stops. The Pacers allowed 76 second half points, which proved especially burdensome in the fourth quarter when it was clear it was their game for the taking.
The Pacers were halted throughout the fourth, five separate times climbing to within two possessions, only to have Washington respond, largely with three pointers, to extend the advantage close to double figures. When Indiana finally “broke through” so to speak, their success when down three didn’t go much better.
After a wide open Jalen Smith dunk with 2:31 remaining made it a 122-119 game, Indiana somehow forced a stop, sending Buddy Hield the other way off of a rebound to attack the basket. His attempt was blocked by Kyle Kuzma, setting up a Deni Avdija to Kristaps Porzingis alley-oop, capping Porzingis’s Wizards debut in style.
It was a bit of an odd game up until that point, with the Wizards imposing their will early, going up 28-19 late in the first quarter. Malcolm Brogdon continued his positive play, closing the quarter with five points and an assist to cut the lead to four heading into the second. The surge continued into the second for Indiana, taking their first lead on an Oshae Brissett take against Porzingis.
Goga Bitadze poured in the buckets as well, scoring 15 points in the quarter, including a trio of three pointers, as Indiana extended their lead out to 11 at 53-42. The Pacers took full advantage of a terrible shooting stretch from Washington, outscoring the Wizards 34-14 in that time.
Unfortunately, the slump didn’t continue for the Wizards, stepping up to close the half on a 15-8 run. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope opened up the third quarter in style, scoring five straight to give Washington the lead. After some back and forth from that point, the Wizards used another big run (13-4) to put the Pacers behind for good, eventually going up by 11 at the end of the quarter.
Though the Pacers would score 36 points in the fourth quarter (still getting outscored by the way), it was the third quarter that really did them in. They scored 26 and allowed 39, the Wizards going 4-6 from deep in the quarter. They kept it up in the fourth, hitting five more to wrap up the win.
Tonight’s loss was the 20th straight for the Pacers when allowing 119 or more points, which as bad as that is on its own only gets worse when noting they’ve scored over 120 in nearly half of those contests. They drop to 26th in defense after this loss, their worst showing since 1991.
The complete lack of defense really took away from a relative positive offensive night for the Pacers. They shot over 50% for just the 14th time this year, but also allowed the Wizards to reach that same mark. Their 17 allowed three pointers was the third time this year Washington had piled on that many against them, hitting seven more at a 40.5% clip.
Indiana forced just six turnovers, getting outscored 17-4 despite committing just 10 on the night. The Wizards also managed to pile on the points inside in the second half, scoring 28 of their 46 after the break. The addition of Porzingis no doubt helped (finishing with 25 points on 7-12 shooting), but it was all bad as far as the Pacers go.
On a positive note, Bitadze had a career best night, scoring a career best 20 points on a perfect 7-7 shooting. Bitadze put in three first half threes, finishing the half with 17 points, including a tough bank shot with the clock winding down.
For as well as Bitadze played, it was surprising to see him somewhat limited in minutes, not taking the court in the third quarter until the final two minutes when Indiana had fallen behind by eight. With Isaiah Jackson once again getting shut out with foul trouble, it’s a bit surprising Bitadze wasn’t higher on the call sheet, though it’s not as if offense was the number one problem for the Pacers.
Jackson’s foul trouble limited him to just eight minutes, though he did all he could in that time to make an impact, scoring six with five rebounds and two blocks. His two third quarter fouls were definitely tough to see go against him, one including a clean block on Porzingis at the rim that was called a foul.
Jalen Smith also continued his positive play as the backup center, finishing with 15 points, six rebounds, and three assists (with a block). Duane Washington Jr. hit three threes to finish with 11. All of those threes off the bench (seven of ‘em) were much needed as the starting lineup went in the opposite direction, missing their first 12 attempts, finally getting one to go from Tyrese Haliburton nearly midway through the fourth.
Haliburton’s three was his lone of the night, shooting a Pacers worse 1-5 from deep, scoring 15 on 5-11 shooting. He had 11 assists and three steals, but but had four turnovers. Back-to-back threes from Buddy Hield to follow wrapped up a dreadful 3-20 night from deep from the starters as he finished with 19.
Brogdon himself was 0-4, but did a lot of positive things beyond that. He finished 8-13 inside the arc, including 11-13 from the free throw line. Brogdon has shot 36 free throws in his last three games, attacking the paint and drawing fouls with a newfound purpose. He finished tonight with 27 points and four assists.
The Pacers wrap up their four game road trip just 1-3, letting the last two slip out of their grasp to get there. They’ll head home for a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday, but will have some extra time off in Indy the rest of the week before a back-to-back road trip next Saturday and Sunday.