The Indiana Pacers successfully completed an undefeated homestand, extending their winning streak to four games with a hard fought win over the Toronto Raptors. They had to go off-script to get there, winning on the glass while getting outshot from three point range, but did at least tie things together with a pair of Buddy Hield threes late to close out the win.
While Indiana has been better about slow starts of late, that wasn’t the case tonight, as Toronto blindsided them with a barrage of threes, connecting on five to jump out to early 19-8 lead. Tyrese Haliburton scored five and dished twice to Myles Turner at the basket to at least keep the game within striking distance, allowing the second unit to flip the game in Indiana’s favor.
The Pacers closed the first quarter on a 10-3 run and took the lead to open the second on back-to-back and one plays from Bennedict Mathurin and T.J. McConnell. Toronto continued to stay hot from three, eventually building their lead back up to five, but the fight was there for Indiana, particularly with Jalen Smith, who pulled in four offensive boards in the quarter, finding Oshae Brissett from a big jam early in the quarter.
The Raptors led by four at the four minute mark of the fourth when Indiana’s starting unit took charge, running off a commanding 14-1 run to suddenly go up by nine. A bad foul on Gary Trent Jr. snapped the run, but didn’t slow Indiana down. Trent hit two of three at the line and after a turnover, was chased down by Turner for an emphatic block that would turn possession over to Indiana and Mathurin, hitting two free throws.
With three seconds on the clock, Pascal Siakam darted down the floor, getting a good look from three, connecting on the shot but just a tick too slow, keeping the Pacers up by nine at the break. Though the shot didn’t count, the spirit of it certainly paid off in a big way as the Raptors once again came out with all cylinders firing, outscoring Indiana 26-9 in the third to go up by eight.
The second unit were again able to calm things down, holding Toronto without a field goal for over four minutes while ever so slightly trimming down the lead on a barrage of free throws to wrap up the third. Indiana came all the way back, getting five points from Mathurin to regain the lead, including a buzzer-beating stepback three for good measure.
The Pacers led by one heading into the fourth, extending the advantage to three on a Smith layup courtesy of a Chris Duarte laser.
Chris Duarte fires in the pass to Jalen Smith. pic.twitter.com/ZAKs6dRBgV— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 3, 2023
The score would stay frozen for over a minute after that, with the Raptors swallowing up any opportunity Indiana would have at the basket, blocking five shots in just over 20 seconds. The blocks didn’t help matters much, but neither did Duarte aggravating his ankle injury. Fortunately, it was just a tweak and while Duarte didn’t return to the game, he was available to do so.
In the meantime, Toronto broke the lock on the score, scoring four straight to regain the lead, leading by two when the Indiana starters came into the game. Hield would immediately dish out two assists, finding Aaron Nesmith inside for two and then dishing out to Haliburton for a three.
That three was the last lead change of the game as Indiana ran away with it in Winning Time. With the lead at five, Hield would sink in the dagger, connecting on back-to-back threes, securing the fourth straight win for the Pacers.
While Indiana took control of the game late, they were also aided by some late-game fatigue by the Raptors. Toronto’s bench was only able to muster up seven total points on the game, which didn’t grant them much time to spell the starting unit, resulting in all five Toronto starters logging at or near 40 minutes of game action.
It was the opposite story for the Pacers, who enjoyed a huge output from their second unit, finishing with 54, resulting in a starting lineup that barely clocked 30 minutes of game action, four of the five still reaching double figures. The balanced attack featured seven double figure scorers on the night, led by the rookie Mathurin with 21 points.
Mathurin bowled over the Toronto defenders throughout the night, helping the Pacers to a free throw advantage victory with 10 attempts, making seven. McConnell also got to the line with relative ease, making all seven of his shots to finish with 15 points. It was a highlight game for both Arizona Wildcats, twice pulling Indiana from a decently sized deficit in their time on the floor.
Rebounding was surprisingly a strong point for Indiana, topping Toronto 50-36 on the glass. That included 15 offensive rebounds. Though they still allowed 12 offensive boards, they were able to play the Raptors to a draw in second chance points, resulting in a 62-42 win in the paint.
Smith led the way on both counts, scoring 11 points with 11 rebounds, seven coming on the offensive end. Four other players totaled two each, including Brissett and Andrew Nembhard, each finishing with five points total. Turner completed his own double double of 18 points and 11 boards, blocking Indiana’s only two shots of the night, another surprising twist compared to 11 total from Toronto.
Hield’s back-to-back threes made him the high scorer among the starters, wrapping up a nine-point fourth with 19 points, including two of his four assists coming at the time as well. The assists helped Aaron Nesmith into double figures with 10, leading the starters in free throw attempts despite shooting just 3-12 and 0-4 from three.
Nesmith’s shooting wasn’t the only uncharacteristic note of the game as Haliburton finished with a season high seven turnovers, failing to thread the needle against Toronto’s length. He did put it together down the stretch, however, dishing three assists with zero turnovers in the fourth. He also pulled in four rebounds to go with his go-ahead three, finishing with 16 points and eight assists.
The win moves Indiana to 21-17 on the year, just four shy of their regular season total from a year ago. The win is also their sixth in seven games, which an impressive stretch not only considering their opposition, but as a response to a 5-10 stretch that briefly put them under .500.
The Pacers will now briefly hit the road for a night, facing the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. The game will have implications in the standings as Indiana currently trails Philly by two games for fifth in the East.