After stumbling to close both the second and third quarters, the Indiana Pacers came through when it mattered most, closing out the Portland Trail Blazers with a purpose in the fourth by holding them scoreless in the final three minutes. That’s quite a turnaround for a Pacers team that had just gotten outscored 27-6 in those middle quarter finishes, instead wrapping things up with nine straight.
Tyrese Haliburton sunk the dagger with just over a minute to go, hitting a step back three pointer that pushed the lead out to seven.
CLUTCH.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 7, 2023
Tyrese Haliburton hits the dagger. pic.twitter.com/lw81iS6yLK
His reaction said it all. It was the first three of the quarter for Haliburton, who had missed four straight to that point, but it also is the perfect encapsulation of the team’s performance as a whole. To be fair, neither side had their best stuff. Every shot seemed to go awry just enough to pile up frustrating misses, leading to both teams shooting under 30% from three, including a season low seven makes for Indiana.
The Pacers also had to make up ground from the jump, allowing the Blazers to rattle off the first 10 points. It was nearly 13 when an Anfernee Simons corner three rattled in and out, leading to a fast break opportunity for Indiana, Haliburton feeding Myles Turner at the basket. It began an 8-0 run for the Pacers, four each from Turner and Andrew Nembard, making it a game.
Oshae Brissett gave Indiana their first lead at 22-21 on his lone three, an advantage that would be brief, but the play of Bennedict Mathurin would make leads a bit more regular in the second quarter. Mathurin scored six straight midway through the second to extend the lead as Turner returned, pushing the advantage to double figures.
The two combined for 26 first half points and 8-9 from the free throw line, but just as things appeared to be at their brightest, Portland climbed back into it rather quickly. Damian Lillard was quiet overall, but kickstarted a 17-5 run to end the half, culminating in a Josh Hart three to give the Trail Blazers a one-point lead at the break.
Buddy Hield was one of many quiet Pacers in the first half, but made his presence felt in the third, hitting his first three alongside a Turner layup to flip the score, totaling nine in the quarter as the Pacers again built a decent lead, going up 78-70 on an Aaron Nesmith dunk. Like clockwork, Lillard and the Blazers had a run ready to go, outscoring Indiana 11-1 to finish out the third, again taking the lead courtesy of Hart, who soared in for a thunderous dunk with two seconds remaining.
A combination of missed shots and a plethora of foul calls really seemed to favor Portland early in the fourth. They pushed their lead to five, but Mathurin took control, helping Indiana keep pace as Portland appeared to have the game in their favor.
the pass ➡️ the jam— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 7, 2023
T.J. McConnell finds Bennedict Mathurin all by himself! pic.twitter.com/5p6qK1p6JP
The Pacers would finally tak the lead with 4:35 on a Haliburton bucket after failing to do so on a pair of ties. Lillard tied things up again as Haliburton missed from deep, but the Pacers finally found a two possession lead when Hield broke free on an errant pass from Simons, eventually resulting in Haliburton’s dagger.
While there wasn’t much going on offensively for either team at times tonight, the Pacers brought a real energy in the fourth quarter, not only holding Portland scoreless in the final three minutes, but without a field goal for the final seven and a half. Part of that was in large part due to a big second half from Nesmith, overcoming a very quiet first half with 10 points and a pair of steals, fighting for possession even when they wouldn’t get possession.
That defensive effort did a lot for Indiana tonight. Not only did they do a good job limiting Lillard’s effectiveness to 19 points on 7-24 shooting, they had 11 steals and six blocks as a team, which led to a 29-15 advantage in points off turnovers and a 26-12 fast break win.
Though the rebounding was again a problem, allowing 12 offensive boards and getting outscored 16-4 in second chance points, it was a good showing overall for Indiana’s big rotation, which featured quality minutes from both Isaiah Jackson and Goga Bitadze with Jalen Smith missing tonight’s game with a hand injury.
Jackson checked in and was immediately a lob target, eventually resulting in 12 points and two blocks while Bitadze made the most of his limited run with two rebounds and a steal. That proved to be useful with Turner battling early foul trouble, though it didn’t slow him down, leading the starters with 17 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
Mathurin led all Pacers tonight with a team high 19, continuing to play strong, going 6-10 from the floor and a perfect 7-7 from the line, helping the Pacers to a much needed 25-17 free throw advantage. Haliburton closed out the game with 15 points and 12 assists, but just couldn’t get his shot going tonight, the same being the case for Hield, who hit both of his threes in the third quarter, finishing with 11. The defensive effort even helped Chris Duarte, who continues to struggle finding his shot. He had a block with his six points. T.J. McConnell meanwhile had four points and six assists.
The win extends Indiana’s home winning streak to five, their longest since 2019. They’ll wrap up this quick two game home stop on Sunday when they host the Charlotte Hornets. The Hornets will enter with an East worst 11-29 record, but will also be coming off of a surprise blowout win in Milwaukee, topping the home Bucks by 29. The tip will be an early one, 5 p.m. Eastern.