As resilient as the Indiana Pacers have been this season, clocking 12 wins when trailing by 10 or more points, it’s tough to continue having to make that push, especially on the back half of a back-to-back. Yet that’s the task the Pacers saddled themselves with once again, falling behind 11-0 out of the gate to the Orlando Magic and spending the rest of the night trying to climb out of that hole.
The inability to ever hold the lead tonight didn’t come for want of trying, but more had to do with a porous defensive effort, allowing the Magic to key in a response whenever the Pacers pushed the game to within striking distance. Before even getting to the point where they had opportunities to take the lead however, they had to first erase that 11-point deficit, which in the meantime had swelled to 17 by the end of the first quarter as Orlando hung 46 points on the visiting Pacers.
The Magic had Indiana on a swivel in the opening period, throwing a seemingly endless run of different lineups at them, resulting in 16-25 shooting and 6-9 from three. The Pacers, solid last night against Chicago with turnovers, created a number of extra possessions for Orlando in the first, something they would improve upon in the second quarter.
Bennedict Mathurin closed the first quarter strong with five late points and pushed forward in the second, scoring eight straight to cut the lead down to 11, assisting to Oshae Brissett for a three that would make it a single digit game. Chris Duarte scored the next five and Mathurin again assisted on a three pointer, this time to Buddy Hield and the game suddenly sat at 56-54 with just over five minutes in the half.
It was the first of two two-point deficits the Pacers would have to close out the first half, each time failing to complete the stop on the opposite end, finding themselves down multiple possessions in a hurry. The Magic used a 9-2 run late to push the advantage back out to nine, with Hield cutting it to three on back-to-back threes.
Unfortunately, the Pacers allowed a bucket with a second remaining to fall behind by five at halftime, which would prove to be the difference they would chase throughout the third quarter. Indiana did well to hang in there only to have Gary Harris or any number of other Orlando players key in a timely three point shot, allowing the Magic to shoot a staggering 13-21 from three through three quarters.
With the game hanging in single digits through the third, Orlando was finally able to break through into double figures at the end of the third, scoring seven straight to lead by 11. That was capped off by a football inbounds from Jalen Suggs to Franz Wagner, which resulted in another end of quarter bucket, giving Orlando a 7-0 shutout in points at the end of quarters.
That would wind up being one extra point than the 126-120 final score, as Indiana would continue struggling to make up ground until the Pacers cut the lead to five with 1:46 remaining. Not only would they not get any closer, they received some bad news in the process with Myles Turner hurting his right ankle/foot as he was fouled getting a pass in the post. Turner stayed in for a bit before eventually exiting the game.
Hopefully it’s a minor tweak for Turner, who was excellent tonight, leading the starters with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Turner was 3-6 from three, hitting all three from the top of the arc on a night the Pacers actually shot fairly well from deep, a steady 15-35. Unfortunately, the Magic got to 15 makes in seven fewer attempts, shooting 56.1% overall.
Though Indiana’s defense was definitely on the bad side of things tonight, the Magic made their own luck as well, not only closing out quarters masterfully and shooting at a high clip, but they took full advantage of their opportunities in all areas, including a staggering 27 second chance points on nine offensive rebounds.
It didn’t help that Harris, the Fishers native, continued to show out against his local team, scoring a season best 22 points on 8-9 shooting, including 6-6 from three. On the Pacers side, Hield attempted to keep pace with such a shooting clip, making his first six attempts from deep, but missed his last four, finishing with 21 points, five assists, and four steals.
T.J. McConnell again manned the point guard position without Andrew Nembhard for a second straight game, dishing eight assists and shooting 8-8 from the field to finish with 17 points. The backup point guard minutes were a bit less flashy obviously, but the trio of Hield, Mathurin, and Chris Duarte did result in 14 combined assists.
Duarte in particular was at his best tonight, scoring 16 points on 4-9 shooting and 6-8 from the free throw line. He led the team with six steals, which helped Indiana to win the turnover battle. Fourteen of Orlando’s 18 were results of Indiana steals, allowing the Pacers a 17-11 win in fast break points.
The real draw of the night was of course the matchup between this class’s top two rookies, the first meeting between Mathurin and Paolo Banchero. Banchero got the win where it mattered, but it was an excellent showcase between the two beyond that. Banchero finished with 22 points and four assists, going 9-10 from the free throw line. Mathurin meanwhile scored a game high 26, also dishing four assists and going 10-12 from the free throw line.
These two teams will match up one more time this season on February 25 in what can hopefully be a healthy meeting, but in the meantime, the Pacers will return home ready to face down a brutal weekend schedule, hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday before another one game roadie against Memphis.