Unsurprisingly, the Indiana Pacers struggled against one of the league’s top teams, hanging in for a bit before ultimately getting blown out by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Pacers had their second worst shooting night of the year at 36.9% while allowing their third highest shooting night for an opponent at 55.2%. So when looking at the final score, “that’s about right” is a good way to sum it up.
The Grizzlies, undefeated on the year when they lead by double figures, got that advantage early, jumping out to a 23-13 lead. The Pacers, to their credit, climbed back in it, cutting the lead to three on a Chris Duarte triple, but were unable to keep up the necessary scoring pace as Memphis closed out the period on a 7-2 run.
Duarte was Indiana’s brightest spot offensively, scoring seven in the first and opening the second quarter with his second three. It was the first of three straight makes for Indiana, cutting the lead to two.
Duarte then assisted to Isaiah Jackson to tie it up, putting the Pacers on top at the free throw line, completing a 12-2 run. Even that early domination of non-Ja Morant minutes didn’t end well for Indiana, with Duarte leaving the game with a left hand injury, setting up the Grizzlies to retake the lead on a 7-1 run before Morant returned.
Morant pushed Memphis’s lead back to double figures where it stayed for good as Indiana’s offense grinded to a halt, getting a Bennedict Mathurin three to close the half just to cut it to 16. Indiana shot just 3-20 after taking the lead, oftentimes failing to even hit the rim with some of their shots. That set up Memphis to close out the half on a 30-11 run.
To Indiana’s credit, they were again able to make an early push in a quarter, building on that Mathurin triple to score the opening four points to cut it to 12, leaving the game there through a pair of Jackson higlights, first on an impressive alley-oop that appeared to sail high
and later soaring to the basket for an emphatic jam.
Unfortunately, highlights like that are going to be completely overshadowed by a player of Morant’s caliber, as the Memphis guard not only got just as high on a block, he made Jackson’s dunk look pedestrian when he drove the lane, cocked back and slammed it home for one of the best dunks of the season.
EVERY ANGLE OF JA MORANT'S UNBELIEVABLE DUNK OF THE YEAR CANDIDATE ️ pic.twitter.com/8u1j6ZNH3F— NBA (@NBA) January 15, 2023
That dunk pushed Memphis’s lead to 20, effectively stalling any hopes of a Pacers comeback on the night. Desmond Bane made sure of that, scoring eight straight to open the fourth quarter, extending the Grizzlies lead to as high as 34 midway through the final period. Duarte did return and at least helped to make the final score look a bit more respectable, scoring nine straight to push the gap to 18 for the official tally.
Even with Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner available, it would’ve been a tough matchup for Indiana to compete with Memphis, but without them, it was clear the Pacers were overmatched. Morant was a huge difference maker and Indiana simply didn’t have anyone capable of stepping up to that level.
That’s not to take away from the positive nights individually, however, because the Pacers did play decently, at least outside of the shooting numbers. Duarte had 25 points off the bench, hitting 4-9 from three on a night the Pacers again struggled, shooting just 23.4% from deep, hitting all seven of his free throw attempts.
T.J. McConnell continued to step up his scoring punch with Haliburton out, scoring 13 points with 11 assists, but he did have five turnovers, that being a particular issue for Indiana on the night against a swarming Grizzlies defense, leading to 38 fast break points and 70 points in the paint.
In the starting lineup, Mathurin led the way with 16 points while Jackson finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. Indiana actually won the rebounding battle despite their poor shooting, getting four offensive each from Jackson and Jalen Smith, leading to a surprising 25-4 Pacers win in second chance points.
Aaron Nesmith returned to action, scoring the opening points and providing a nice energy boost, especially early, but couldn’t find his shot all night, shooting just 2-13 and 0-8 from three. That was also the case for Andrew Nembhard once again, going 2-9 overall, both of his makes from three. Buddy Hield meanwhile saw his three point makes streak snapped, going 0-3 and scoring just five.
The Pacers have now lost three straight for the second time this season and much like that three game losing streak, will face a tough opponent on the road. The Pacers came through in that instance, beating Golden State without Haliburton, and will be tasked with the same on Monday night when they face the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time this season to start a tough four game road trip.