Four observations: Pacers blow 18-point lead in loss to Denver
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana Pacers took an 18-point first half lead thanks to an explosive second quarter, but the Denver Nuggets rallied to defeat them 122-119 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Wednesday night. After winning four of their previous five games to reach .500 for the first time since February 2021, the Pacers fell to 5-6. The Nuggets improved to 8-3.
Here are four observations from the game.
Rick Carlisle spent the last two days talking about Nikola Jokic as a basketball unicorn, a 7-foot center and two-time MVP who operates like a point guard. He noted more than once that there's no easy way to defend such a player, so the Pacers attacked him.
The Pacers went at Jokic in the paint in the first half and drew his fourth foul in 10 minutes, 46 seconds of action. Then just 58 seconds into the second half, he picked up his fifth. At that point, the Nuggets were +1 with him on the floor and down more than 15 without him.
The Nuggets rallied to trim that gap, though, and he eventually entered the game with 9:03 to go in the fourth and the Pacers leading 103-98. That advantage didn't survive long. In just 9 fourth-quarter minutes, Jokic scored 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting, helping the Nuggets outscore the Pacers 33-24 in the period. Jokic finished with 24 points, six assists and four rebounds.
The Pacers' lead was largely fueled by the 3-ball, as they hit 9-of-21 from the first half, with rookie Bennedict Mathurin hitting five. That touch seemed to disappear in the second half, however, as they hit on just 5-of-21 attempts after the break. Point guard Tyrese Haliburton and Mathurin were 8-of-10 from 3 combined in the first half and 1-of-7 after the break.
Chris Duarte's ankle injury seemed to open up the opportunity for Mathurin to enter the starting lineup for the first time. Rick Carlisle instead used another rookie, Andrew Nembhard, and Mathurin seemed a little thrown off. He scored just eight points in the Pacers win over the Pelicans on 2-of-8 shooting. It was the first time he failed to score in double figures.
On Wednesday he didn't have nearly the same problem getting started, catching fire almost as soon as he touched the floor. He entered the game with 5:44 to go in the first quarter and promptly hit a 3-pointer and then a fadeaway jumper. He hit his first five shots of the second quarter on the way to 6-of-7 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3 to score 18 points. The Pacers outscored the Nuggets 43-21 in the period to take a 70-56 halftime lead. Mathurin slowed down significantly in the second half but still finished with 30 points.
Pacers big man Myles Turner took a while to get going and Indiana went 1 of 9 from the field in the first quarter, so they relied more on second-year forward Isaiah Jackson and got one of the most productive performances of his young career.
Jackson took advantage of the up-tempo pace with some rim runs and pick and roll work and scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting to go with 10 rebounds.
DENVER (122): Gordon 5-8 7-9 18, Porter Jr. 7-14 0-0 17, Jokic 10-20 3-3 24, Caldwell-Pope 5-7 2-2 15, Murray 6-15 5-5 18, Green 2-3 0-0 4, B.Brown 1-5 0-0 2, Jordan 3-3 2-2 8, Hyland 4-13 5-5 16. Totals 43-88 24-26 122.
INDIANA (119): Hield 7-16 1-1 17, J.Smith 2-9 0-0 6, Turner 5-11 4-5 14, Haliburton 9-15 0-0 21, Nembhard 3-6 1-1 8, Jackson 6-7 5-6 17, Bitadze 1-4 0-0 2, Mathurin 10-17 4-6 30, Nesmith 0-5 0-0 0, Brissett 1-2 0-0 2, McConnell 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 45-96 15-19 119.
Denver 35 21 33 33 — 122
Indiana 27 43 25 24 — 119
3-Point Goals—Denver 12-28 (Caldwell-Pope 3-4, Hyland 3-7, Porter Jr. 3-7, Murray 1-2, Gordon 1-3, Jokic 1-3, B.Brown 0-1, Green 0-1), Indiana 14-42 (Mathurin 6-9, Haliburton 3-8, J.Smith 2-5, Hield 2-9, Nembhard 1-3, Bitadze 0-1, Nesmith 0-3, Turner 0-4). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Denver 47 (Gordon 16), Indiana 44 (Turner 12). Assists_Denver 27 (Gordon, Jokic 6), Indiana 28 (Haliburton 11). Total Fouls_Denver 15, Indiana 23. A_14,069 (20,000)