Though they were unable to come away with a win, the Indiana Pacers closed out the season with an impressive second half showing against the Brooklyn Nets, outscoring the home team 66-58 in the second half. One last slow start to wrap up the year gave Brooklyn the cushion they needed to hold off Indiana’s second half surges, leading 8-0 from the jump and more or less staying put from there.
Indiana’s trademark first quarter woes set up Brooklyn to not only score the first eight, but finish the quarter on a 9-3 run, pulling ahead 41-29 heading into the second quarter. The lead swelled to 18 to open the second when the second unit began to breathe life into Indiana’s performance.
Lance Stephenson and Duane Washington Jr., with a little help from Gabe York, drew the Pacers to within 12, taking full advantage of Brooklyn’s lackluster transition defense for any number of great finds to a breakaway Washington for multiple jams.
Even though the Pacers were mostly able to get whatever they wanted on the offensive end, the same was more than true for the Nets, camping themselves inside for shot after shot at the basket. The Nets took just nine first half threes, doing most of their damage in the paint, scoring 46 of their 76 first half points at the basket.
Trailing by 16 out of the half, Indiana’s shooting exploded. The Pacers connected on five threes in the first four and a half minutes of the half, three of those coming from Oshae Brissett, as Indiana cut the lead to one on a 17-2 run. The Pacers were 7-13 from deep in the quarter, getting a pair from T.J. McConnell, who was back into the swing of things and more, leading Indiana’s success in the zone and being a spark on both ends.
Indiana would tie the game twice, the last time coming at 91-91. Unsurprisingly, the answers were always there for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, both fantastic in getting buckets in Irving’s case or setting up guys for easy buckets in Durant’s case. The Nets closed the third on a 12-3 run.
The Pacers weren’t done though. Washington, York, and Stephenson would again give Brooklyn more than they were angling for, cutting the lead to within four, but Irving showed off his tremendous finishing skills to extend the lead back out to eight. That’s mostly where the game stayed from that point, fluctuating within that range to the finish.
Brissett and Hield played extremely well in the quarter, eventually cutting the lead to six with 86 seconds remaining, but an inability to corral the rebound off of a Patty Mills miss set up Bruce Brown for what served as the dagger, twisted in by a tough miss at the rim by McConnell, wrapping up Indiana’s season with their 10th straight loss.
The Pacers tied a season high with 19 made three pointers, a +11 against the Nets. They also didn’t turn it over, committing just seven miscues, leading to a massive 27-10 win in points off turnovers, forcing Brooklyn into 21 for the game. That allowed Indiana to get up 23 extra shots, which of course comes in handy when you allow a season high in field goal percentage.
The Nets shot 64.2% for the game, finishing with 74 points in the paint. The game plan was pretty simple for Brooklyn: punish Indiana’s lack of size and it worked. The 134 Brooklyn put up was a high in this losing streak, a fitting conclusion to a season of unspeakable defensive ineptitude.
On the bright side, this was about the best case scenario for the kind of roster the Pacers have been floating out there in these last 10 games. They’ve been so clearly outmatched, but to give Denver, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn just enough of a headache in these games would be noteworthy if they weren’t also losing to teams like Detroit and Sacramento, also trying to lose.
Indiana once again got seven double figure scorers in their nine-man rotation, led by Brissett with 28. Brissett put in five of Indiana’s 19 threes, pulling in eight boards, three on the offensive end. His five threes matched Hield, who finished with 21. Hield struggled early, but made three in the second half.
It was a welcome sight to see McConnell round himself back into game form in the season finale, tying his season high in threes made with three, scoring 14. He also had five assists and four steals, hounding the Nets inbounders with Hield, who himself had an inbounds steal and layup.
Tyrese Haliburton finished with a 17 point, 10 assist double double, enjoying the open space not being guarded by Philadelphia creates, coming away with one turnover. Though it would be nice to see Haliburton step up as a scorer, especially in a game with Irving and Durant, his decision to pass paid off, helping Indiana to 32 assists as a team.
The lone single digit scorer was Isaiah Jackson, finishing with seven. Though he had his struggles inside against Andre Drummond and Nic Claxton, he did soar higher in a literal sense with one of his most impressive alley oop finishes of the year, in addition to a similarly impressive block.
Off the bench, Washington led the way with 18 points, hitting 4-6 from deep, including both of his attempts in the fourth as Indiana climbed back into the game early in the second. Indiana’s transition success was helped along by Washington, especially in the second quarter, flushing home two massive fast break dunks as part of Indiana’s 26 fast break points.
Terry Taylor finished the year on a positive note, scoring 10 points with seven rebounds, pulling in six of those on the offensive end, leading to nine of Indiana’s 20 second chance points. Lance Stephenson had 10 points and five assists in 17 minutes, improvising some flashy dimes and takes to the rim to keep Indiana’s effort up, leading the way with six free throw attempts, getting to the line twice on one possession despite splitting each trip.
So that’s it. The Pacers finish the year 25-57, their worst mark since 1984-85 when they wrapped up the year with 60 losses. That so happened to be the first draft lottery for the NBA, the infamous frozen envelope conspiracy, that gave New York the opportunity to draft Georgetown legend Patrick Ewing first overall.
The Pacers were the team on the wrong end of that conspiracy, picking the late, great Wayman Tisdale second overall. Tisdale was the second of three second overall picks for Indiana in the 1980’s as the top pick eluded them throughout the decade. That included 1984, when a loss of a coin toss with Houston sent transcendence in Hakeem Olajuwon away from Indiana along with their pick, which transferred to Portland, leading to the much beleaguered pick of Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan.
That’s all to say, the Pacers could finally stand to have that luck go in their favor nearly 40 years later, as they have their best lottery odds in decades. It will be Indiana’s first top 10 pick since 2010 when they selected Paul George at 10th overall, and their first single digit pick since 1989, drafting George McCloud 7th.
The Pacers will have the 5th best overall odds for the #1 pick at 10.5%, though if Oklahoma City wins against all attempts otherwise, those odds will slightly improve.
This pick will be an important part of Indiana’s rebuilding process, the difference between being right back in this position a year from now or potentially moving in a more promising direction. For all the struggles on the season, there is room for optimism with this team in the short term.
They’ll need to figure some stuff out on the defensive end (an understatement), but with an encouraging group of young players headed up by Haliburton, Jackson, and Chris Duarte and solid veterans Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Buddy Hield, and T.J. McConnell, they’re not in a bad starting spot, especially if they opt to bring back free agents Jalen Smith and T.J. Warren.
That’s not to say any sort of success is a lock though. The common theme linking the pre-trade deadline Pacers and the post-deadline version was poor defense and even worse execution late in games. They allowed an East worst 114.9 points per game this season and were 5-21 in games decided by five points or less. Largely running it back can’t solve all of that.
The NBA Draft Lottery will take place on Tuesday, May 17. That five week absence of all things Pacers won’t be without rooting interests, at least in the coming week. The Nets win today put them at 7th in the East, hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday. The Pacers currently have Cleveland’s 2022 first round pick, but that will be predicated on the Cavs making the playoffs.
They’ll have two chances of doing so in the league’s play-in tournament. Should they lose against Brooklyn on Tuesday, they’ll host the winner of Charlotte/Atlanta on Friday with the 8th seed on the line. Should the Cavs lose out, the pick will carry over into the 2023 draft before becoming two second rounders if Cleveland fails next year to reach the postseason. That pick, once seen as a lock, has become more of an uncertainty with Cleveland’s injury issues leading them to a 9-17 finish on the year, dropping from 3rd in the East to 8th.
On behalf of Tom, Caitlin, and Mark, I want to thank everyone for spending time with Indy Cornrows this year. It was a frustrating season to say the least, but it wasn’t without its highlights, be it on the court or here. Feel free to reminiscent about whatever good things come from a 25-win season as draft season ramps up in earnest ahead of the lottery and the June 23 draft.