Pacers can't close against Nuggets, now prep for Embiid, Sixers
The Pacers continue hunting for wins while grinding toward the trade deadline.
The Pacers, still playing without All-Star Tyrese Haliburton, couldn’t convert on the offensive end when it mattered most in the final two minutes before dropping a 114-109 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night.
The defensive effort by the Pacers throughout the game was admirable, holding the defending champs to 114 points, but the Pacers are far from their usual league leading offense with Hali on the bench rotating thru stylish fits.
This is exactly the type of game against the type of team that makes the acquisition of Pascal Siakam so important. Siakam is a guy who can get a bucket down the stretch in a tight game…when he’s teamed up with Haliburton. On his own, Siakam can only do so much and the Nuggets made sure what he did was pass to the open man.
Andrew Nembhard tied the game up at 107 with just over two minutes to play. While Denver had Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray taking turns getting buckets down the stretch, the Pacers had their opportunities to keep pace and even take control. Both Aaron Nesmith and Myles Turner had two three-point shots each in that time, shots any Pacers fan would be happy to see shot. However, they didn’t have it on this night despite the incredible looks.
Nesmith’s first miss (1:54 left) came via a pass from Siakam after the Nuggs smothered him, forcing the pass. Turner missed his first three (1:24 left) in a similar situation. The Nuggs collapsed on Siakam in the paint and PS snapped a pass out to an open Turner, whose shot was somewhat contested by the time he released it. The ball missed the rim and caromed off the glass, leading to a transition layup by Murray.
Nesmith had another clear look (1:11 left) in the corner, again after a kickout pass from Siakam when three Nuggs met him in the lane.
Nesmith’s miss stayed with the Pacers after the ball went out of bounds. On the inbound, the ball went to Nesmith, who then found an open Turner (1:05 left) who stepped into the three, but bounced it off the back iron.
The playmaking by Siakam was on point, with the Nuggets loading up on him to make someone else beat them which is where the Pacers fell short. The dreams of a similar scenario with Haliburton being able to work in tandem with Siakam to force the opponent to pick their poison was quite vivid after watching this crunch time.
But, alas, we must wait.
Sheppard earns closing role
Rookie Ben Sheppard has been taking advantage of minutes he’s been doled out as of late, but he ramped up the activity against the Nuggets, so much so that Lloyd Pierce (with Carlisle tossed earlier in the game) left the rook out for crunch time. Sheppard is always active, and as I wrote about before the season, running the floor and remaining active is the easy part for the rook.
Sheppard paid off Pierce’s confidence with two key plays to keep the Pacers in the mix in the final five minutes. One was a corner three to finally get the Pacers over the hump in their comeback to take a 103-102 lead. The other play a few minutes later was a viral effort which will be watched for years due to the insane effort it took to deliver the highlight play. It would take much longer to describe than to watch so enjoy.
While Sheppard earned the nod, fellow rookie Jarace Walker sat this one out. While Jalen Smith missed the game with sore back, Isaiah Jackson was back in the rotation. Walker did have 10 points and 5 assists on Wednesday when he played for the Mad Ants which seems to indicate his minutes will remain sporadic with the Pacers when everyone is healthy.
As the team struggles to find wins without Haliburton while adjusting to the addition of Siakam, there remain some rough waters ahead for the team dynamic. Rumors persist that those with expiring contracts, namely Buddy Hield and Obi Toppin, along with Jalen Smith’s option year, have been linked to further trade talks. Truth, informed rumor or rubbish, the noise is out there and human nature will always muck up the team dynamic, regardless of how much the players get along personally. At the end of the day, these are 15 individual businesses working together to lift each other and the team to success. But when success is hard to come by, it takes a special group to grind through the noise and continue to perform at a high level.
The trade deadline is in two weeks, but until then the roster, or better put, the humans making up the roster will remain unsettled.
Speaking of unsettling, the Pacers host the Sixers on Thursday night with Joel Embiid coming off of a 70-point performance in Philly’s recent win over the Spurs. Hopefully, the Pacers will have a little more for the big man than Wemby and the Spurs were able to deliver.
Where: Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
When: Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Bally Sports
Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan
Odds: Pacers +4.5
Pacers: Andrew Nembhard, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Pascal Siakam, Myles Turner
Sixers: Tyrese Maxey, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nicolas Batum, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Pacers: Jalen Smith (back) - questionable, Tyrese Haliburton (left hamstring) - out
Sixers: Marcus Morris Sr. (left foot) - probable, Jaden Springer (ankle) - probable, Tobias Harris (illness) - questionable, Mo Bamba (knee) - out, Robert Covington (knee) - out, Kenneth Lofton Jr. (personal reasons) - out, De'Anthony Melton (back) - out
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