The Indiana Pacers are tricky to figure out how to beat, especially at home, but after 43 games it’s become abundantly clear the easiest way to beat the Pacers is on the second game of a back-to-back. Oh, and it has to be on the road.
Six out of the Pacers’ nine losses this season have come on the second game of a back-to-back and all have been on the road. Those six loses have been by an average of 13 points, with the 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder being the worst.
Last night, the Denver Nuggets caught the Pacers in a perfect storm. Not only had the Pacers played the night before against the Sacramento Kings, but it also went into overtime. And just like last night, the Pacers were playing from behind against the Kings, which made them exert more energy than if they were leading.
Wilson Chandler got the Nuggets rolling in the first quarter by scoring 11 of his game-high 25 points. They lead 7-0 early on and went up 12-4 before the Pacers’ offense started clicking. Down four at the end of the first, it looked like the Pacers were going to be able to weather whatever storm the Nuggets brought before turning it up a notch. That all changed in the second quarter.
With Chandler on the bench for the majority of the second quarter, the Nuggets needed someone else to pick up the scoring. Enter Nate Robinson. The feisty 5-foot-9 point guard scored 13 in the second quarter and helped push the lead from four to 19 by halftime.
Everyone had seen this movie before. The Pacers down by double-digits at half, needing a big third quarter to close the gap, followed by a strong defensive fourth quarter to claim victory. They got the first two requirements, but the third was nowhere to be seen.
Indiana erupted for a season-high 40 points in the third quarter, but gave up 31 to the Nuggets. Down 10 to start the fourth, it looked like the Pacers had swung the momentum back their way like they did the night before against the Kings. Six points were the closest the Pacers would get the rest of the way. No matter what kind of run they would start, the Nuggets would answer back right away and push their lead back to 10-plus.
Denver’s big men frustrated the Pacers’ interior defense all night. Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov combined for 28 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, while helping to foul out Pacers’ Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi in the fourth quarter. With the calls leaning towards the home team, the Pacers’ big men couldn’t play their typical physical game, costing them in the long run.
Lance Stephenson lead the way for the Pacers with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. It was Stephenson’s fourth double-double out of the last five games, and his fourth with five or more assists as well. Paul George didn’t play the role of savior like he did the night before, scoring 18 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dished out six assists.
It’s never easy to win back-to-back games, especially ones on the road. But thankfully, the Pacers won’t have to worry about such games when it comes playoff time. They can take solace in knowing they have only eight such games left this season and knowing they still have the league’s best record.