The Indiana Pacers had another spirited performance fall short of a win tonight, this time losing to the Atlanta Hawks in the final second. The Pacers enjoyed a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but scored just 10 points in the final eight minutes, getting outscored 21-10 in that stretch.
The Pacers took the lead on a Bennedict Mathurin and-one play with 58 seconds remaining, but his miss at the free throw line set up Trae Young to put the Hawks on top with a three pointer. Indiana managed to key in a response, getting Buddy Hield driving to the basket and drawing a foul, tying the game up at 111-111 with 21 seconds on the clock.
Young worked the clock down, taking an absurdly deep three with four seconds left that was well short, but fell to Dejounte Murray, who missed his own putback, getting tapped in by John Collins with 0.7 seconds remaining. The Pacers went big in the final play, attempting to throw the ball inside for a game tying layup attempt, but the Hawks packed in the paint, preventing anything from coming of the inbounds play.
That final minute wrapped up a fairly wild game overall, one that saw Atlanta appear to seize control against a short-handed Indiana team multiple times only for the Pacers to fight back throughout. Indiana first came back from an 11-point deficit early in the second quarter, Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard scoring or assisting on 22 straight points points to fight all the way back, tying the game at 49-49.
From there, the Pacers were unable to break through into the lead, going scoreless for the next two minutes and only able to match points until Hield finally broke them through on a three pointer to end the first half.
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Indiana extended their lead to start the third to seven points, but that proved short lived with the Hawks heating up from deep. De’Andre Hunter knocked down a pair of threes to kickstart a 14-0 Atlanta run that suddenly put them ahead by seven. The Pacers remained composed, however, crashing the glass and running off 12 straight points of their own to take a late lead in the third, again closing things out on a Hield three pointer.
The vibes were immaculate early in the fourth as Indiana continued to beat down the Hawks, led by Isaiah Jackson on the defensive end and Hield on the offensive end, taking a 99-90 lead, forcing an Atlanta timeout.
As with all their leads on the night, they didn’t last long. Young scored five straight and Hunter knocked down two more threes, suddenly giving the Hawks a 103-101 lead. Even though Indiana’s offense faded in the closing minutes, they weren’t without their success, going up by as many as four late, ultimately losing on a tough bounce and an inability to pull in a rebound, which is a fitting way for this team to go down.
Without Tyrese Haliburton for at least a fortnight, Indiana was noticeably missing his recent late-game brilliance down the stretch. Figuring out a closing situation, if there even is one, will be paramount, though the immediate upcoming schedule may not grant them too many late-game opportunities.
Myles Turner and Aaron Nesmith both missed tonight’s game as well, which put the Pacers in a tight eight-man rotation. That included starting Andrew Nembhard and Chris Duarte, which is going to require some adjustment on their part offensively. Neither player had many positives. Both hit a three and Nembhard dished six assists, but the duo shot a combined 4-25 (2-16 from Nembhard alone), both taking on some tougher shots than perhaps needed at times, stalling the offense just enough to make things difficult overall.
Fortunately, the Pacers had plenty of help tonight to lift them up, with the rest of the rotation scoring in double figures. Mathurin led the way with a game high 26, getting to the line 11 teams, hitting eight attempts. The Pacers won the free throw battle, 24-15, but their five misses as a team proved costly down the stretch.
Hield meanwhile scored 18, hitting five threes and piling up one of the many wide ranging stat lines, finishing with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. The three steals came as part of eight overall, which helped Indiana to 30 fast break points and 64 points in the paint, a valuable take when the rest of the team shot just 2-18 from three point range.
Surprisingly, though they still allowed 14 offensive rebounds, the Pacers did rebound relatively well, finishing with 19 offensive boards and winning the rebounding battle by one. That included five each from Jackson and Oshae Brissett. Jackson was on triple double watch late when he blocked his sixth and seventh shot on one possession, finishing with a 10 point, 10 rebound double double.
Brissett meanwhile had 10 boards of his own, completing his own double double with 17 points. Switching off with Jackson at the center position was Jalen Smith, scoring 14 points with six rebounds, pulling in three offensive rebounds himself. T.J. McConnell completed a 44-point bench night with 13 points and seven assists, shooting 6-10 from the field overall.
Being +5 in offensive rebounding didn’t benefit the Pacers all that much in second chance points however, with the Collins tip-in giving them a 22-21 win in that area. They also had some downright poor stretches on the glass, allowing Onyeka Okongwu to pull in 20 rebounds, seven offensively.
Unable to seal the deal, the Pacers have dropped to 23-20 on the season with two straight losses. That’s a tough spot to be in given their next opponent will be the red hot Memphis Grizzlies, winners of eight straight. After winning their first four of the streak by an average of 15.5 points per game, their last four have all been within single digits, but Indiana will have to play a much sharper game to keep pace on the second night of a back-to-back Saturday night.