Despite getting 29 points from T.J. McConnell off the bench, the Pacers lost a third-straight game without Tyrese Haliburton in the lineup and fourth overall, getting outscored 39-21 in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a 132-119 win for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The first quarter, in which the Pacers scored an impressive 38 points in what came to be a stark contrast to the second half, ended in a flurry — as T.J. McConnell answered a made three from AJ Green at one end of the floor with a lob pass to Isaiah Jackson in transition before stealing a bad pass from Bobby Portis and draining his second three of the quarter at the buzzer to put his team ahead by six.
WHAT A SEQUENCE!— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 16, 2023
T.J. McConnell with the alley-oop to Isaiah Jackson, the steal and he knocks down the triple at the BUZZER! pic.twitter.com/i6GQblY2M5
McConnell’s takeover continued in the second quarter, with the Pacers jumping out to a double-digit lead, at 47-37, as he followed up a tough floater with a conversion of a three-point play, drawing contact on a lay-in after burning Green at the point of attack.
this man cannot be stopped!— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 16, 2023
T.J. McConnell with the crazy finish at the rim and gets the AND-1. pic.twitter.com/nsyXIdPAYM
For the half, he scored 25 points, eclipsing his career-high (23), while going a perfect 9-of-9 from the field, including four made threes. After missing the last two games due to back spasms, Myles Turner also got off to a fast start, canning six of his first seven shots with Brook Lopez prioritizing the rim. With Turner starting hot from deep, McConnell had more room to attack baseline, and also saw Lopez stepping out to hedge when he was the pick-and-roll ball-handler (a surreal sighting!), after the Bucks had previously been daring him to shoot and ducking under.
HE'S ON FIRE!— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 16, 2023
T.J. McConnell is up to 18 points in the first half! pic.twitter.com/xbkuWKmcBk
Meanwhile, he also had six assists, capping off what was a 76-point first half for the Pacers with a kick-out to Andrew Nembhard in the corner, giving Indiana an 11-point lead over the Bucks with both teams combining for 25 threes. Defensively, Indiana assigned Turner to Bobby Portis, rather than Lopez, to keep him around the rim and out of screening actions while also mixing in some 2-3 zone following makes, which led to open threes for the Bucks with the Pacers scrambling to rotate.
That trend continued early in the third quarter, as Turner and Portis both knocked down threes within the first minute of the second half, largely without being guarded. With Portis drilling a 16-foot jumper over Buddy Hield on a switch to pull the Bucks within six at 81-75, Rick Carlisle signaled for a timeout, after which the Pacers answered Milwaukee’s 10-5 run with a 9-3 run of their own.
Momentum started to shift in favor of the Bucks when Grayson Allen ran out in transition for a dunk that trimmed the lead to eight with 5:00 to play in the third quarter. From there, Indiana’s offense went through a lull, converting only two made field goals until McConnell — as was the case at the end of the half — collapsed the defense and kicked the ball to the corner. This time, with Oshae Brissett drilling the triple to put the Pacers back up by five, at 98-93, after Jrue Holiday had drilled a step-back from deep against Jalen Smith on a switch on the prior possession.
After holding the Pacers to only 22 points in the third quarter, the Bucks started the fourth on an 8-2 run, taking their first lead since the first quarter on a three from Allen that resulted from a miscommunication between Jalen Smith and Oshae Brissett. Following a timeout to talk things over, Nembhard returned the favor, dusting Allen on a drive to the rim to move back ahead, 102-101, before repeating the same tactic against Portis and kicking to Smith on the the next possessions, with the Bucks opting to switch on ball screens, including when Lopez returned to the game.
That adjustment, though, led to some empty possessions from the Pacers and put them up against the clock too often, with Nembhard committing a turnover on a post entry pass and Turner misfiring on a face-up attempt against Holiday. At the other end, meanwhile, Holiday was knifing through Indiana’s attempt to alter the game with 2-3 zone and also stepping back in isolation versus switches, either scoring or assisting on 12 of Milwaukee’s next 14 points, putting the Bucks up by eight before Aaron Nesmith drilled a three with 3:22 to play.
After getting diced up, Indiana went exclusively back to man with some selective trapping mixed in over the final two minutes, but Jrue was undeterred, opening up a nine-point lead that was never again surrendered after calling for a screen from Lopez to score over Nesmith.
For the game, Holiday finished with 35 points on 13-of-19 shooting, torching switches on one end while slowing down McConnell on the other, who was held to just four points in the second half. In the end, a game that started with the Pacers exploding for 38 points, ended with them surrendering 39 in the fourth quarter, with the Bucks going 8-of-8 from two and 6-of-10 from three. Altogether, Indiana was outscored 67-43 in the second half, with no one besides Turner and Hield scoring more than four points.
After scoring eight points in the first quarter, Bennedict Mathurin was particularly quiet, as he was held scoreless from the field over the final three quarters, while struggling with his handle and ball security on numerous occasions.
Other than his made three at the end of the half, Indiana also didn’t find much offense from Nembhard, who finished 3-of-9 for the game and has now misfired on 14 of his last 18 threes since starting at point guard in place of Haliburton.
As for the big rotation, with Myles Turner scoring 30 points in his return, Isaiah Jackson played less than two minutes after blocking 11 shots over the weekend.
Without Haliburton, the Pacers will be up against another dynamic guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday — when better solutions will have to be found than what was the case in containing Holiday or at least matching his scoring output while navigating the switches that also bothered the Pacers down the stretch against Atlanta.