As the Indiana Pacers lose their seventh straight game, this time to the short-handed Phoenix Suns, it’s worth looking at the score quarter by quarter. The Pacers lost the first quarter 29-27, tied the second 30-30, lost the third 28-26, and lost the fourth 25-24. That brings the grand total to five points.
It really wasn’t just that the Pacers lost (or tied) each quarter, it’s how poorly they closed them. Phoenix was the last team to score in each period, effectively scoring the final 16 points of quarters, which turns out to make a big difference in a five-point game. Each run in the first three quarters not only ended in Phoenix points, but flipped the scoreboard in their favor, which proved valuable as both teams stumbled about in the fourth.
The combined shooting in the fourth between the Suns and Pacers was 28.2%, but unlike the Indiana, Phoenix was able to lean on Josh Okogie to close out the game. Okogie scored 11 points in the fourth, helping to hold off whatever pushes Indiana was able to make throughout the period.
It was a frustrating showing for Indiana’s offense not only late, but throughout, as their inability to hold a lead throughout the entire game forced them to play from behind the entire fourth, falling behind by nine early. They trailed by eight with about three minutes left when Saben Lee was whistled for a flagrant foul against Buddy Hield, setting up Hield and Bennedict Mathurin to complete a four point play.
Aaron Nesmith would be whistled for his sixth foul on the other end, sending Lee to the line on a block to extend the lead back out to six. Mathurin got a charge call overturned to help him complete a three point play, but again, the inability to capitalize off of a turnover (Hield missing a three off of a Damian Lee travel) set up Ish Wainwright for a three pointer to double the lead again.
T.J. McConnell got in on the and-one fest, cutting the lead to three again, but this time it was Jock Landale who got an easy basket to make it a two possession game. With the clock winding down, Hield pulled up and hit a three to cut the lead to one, immediately fouling S. Lee, who split the trip, giving the Pacers life. Hield would leave his game tying attempt wide left, eventually getting Okogie the two free throws that would, in fact, give Phoenix the fourth quarter win.
The frustrations continue for the Pacers offense, shooting just 37.5% for the game, the third time in this streak they’ve failed to reach 40% as a team and just the sixth overall. Rick Carlisle attempted to jump start the offense a bit tonight by moving McConnell into the starting lineup to help Andrew Nembhard play off the ball, a decision that paid early dividends, giving the Pacers a 10-3 lead.
That unfortunately didn’t last, however, as Bismack Biyombo, reliably turning into Shaquille O’Neal against the Pacers, guided Phoenix back, turning the game into a see-saw affair, featuring 16 lead changes and 13 ties. McConnell completed a triple double of 18 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds, but the offense continued to sputter, finishing with just 22 assists as a team.
On a positive note, it did help get both Hield and Myles Turner more involved. Hield led the starters with 22 points, hitting five threes, while Turner scored 16, hitting three triples himself, completing a double double with 12 rebounds, blocking four shots. Those numbers are a fair ask of all three of those players, but the Pacers have just needed...more, especially as Hield and Turner shot well below 50%.
The absence of Tyrese Haliburton has really highlighted how reliant this roster is on his ability to get everyone involved. Not only in creating space for someone like Hield, but without him, it’s been a chore to simply get the offense going as McConnell has proven the player most capable of getting Indiana some points when they need some points, which is a less than ideal situation.
Beyond him, that job would feasibly fall to Indiana’s two rookies, Andrew Nembhard and Mathurin. Nembhard has really struggled with his shooting, tonight scoring just four points on 2-9 shooting, missing all five of his attempts, while Mathurin’s own struggles from three point range (0-3 tonight) leave him without an option besides attacking the rim. That worked out enough for him tonight to get there 11 times, making them all as part of his 23, but he was just 6-17 overall from the floor, missing a number at the basket in hopes of drawing a foul.
Elsewhere, Jalen Smith scored 11 points off the bench in his first game against his former team, pulling in six rebounds. He did have four turnovers, two coming on offensive calls, in a game the Pacers really struggled limiting their violations, committing nine extra fouls than Phoenix, leading to a +2 for the Suns at the line. Five players had four or more fouls with Nesmith fouling out, scoring six. In his first game against the Pacers, Duane Washington Jr. scored nine, shooting 3-5 from deep.
The loss drops Indiana to 23-25 on the year, just a half game ahead of the 10th seed Chicago Bulls. The Bulls will likewise be Indiana’s next opponent on Tuesday. It’ll be a tough matchup for the home Pacers as they search for reliable offense against two high end scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.