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Plenty to like before turnover-filled fourth quarter leads to Pacers' first loss of the season
They led by 11 after three. Then, the fourth quarter happened.
The Pacers were on the verge of a 4-0 record to begin the season, taking an 11-point lead into the final quarter after a dominant third frame that included a 17-1 run. A second straight win over the Celtics would have locked up the season tiebreaker just one week into the season.
Then the final 12 minutes happened.
The Celtics (2-2) outscored the Pacers (3-1) 26-6 to start the fourth quarter, taking the lead for good and then the game, 116-11. Jayson Tatum, who finished with a game-high 27 points, nearly outscored the entire Pacers in the 4th, 14-17.
“We had a very active third quarter,” Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren said afterward. “You can’t let your guard down for a second. They came out and went bang, bang, bang.”
With three bench players in there to start the quarter, the Pacers allowed 11 straight points and it was all downhill from there. The pace, the attention to detail and defending without fouling faded away.
“Their second unit really won the game for them,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “They made that push in the late third, early fourth quarter and we were unable to stop their run and get some stops.”
Added Bjorkgren: “We got to take care of it better, but it’s not like they’re selfish turnovers,”. “We got to be strong with the ball, it was a very physical game at both ends.”
The Pacers had as many turnovers (7) in the quarter as field goals and sent the Celtics to the line for 16 free throw attempts. For the game, they were outscored by 14 at the line — and that includes 10 misses from the road team.
Up until that troubling final quarter, the Pacers had put together another impressive performance to start the season. Third quarters, once a weakness last season, have become a strength. In each of their first four games, they’ve outscored their opponent by at least 11 points. They’re +52.
“This is a maturing team that has had a lot of bad third quarters last year so, as a team, our chemistry is getting better,” Brogdon said. “We understand that and we’re maturing and it’s experience, but we also have a good coach.”
Victor Oladipo was back in the lineup Tuesday after sitting out Sunday’s game, which was the second game of a back-to-back. He paced the team with a season-high 24, including seven of their first eight points to begin the second half.
“We’re still trying to figure everything out and get better down the stretch. Even though last game we were fortunate enough to win that game, there were still things we needed to improve at — just like tonight there’s still things we need to improve at. The ceiling for this team is very scary, we could be a very good team once we figure everything out.”
Oladipo made 10 of 18 shots, including a pair of 3s, but two free throw attempts isn’t enough; not for how much he wants to attack. He’s at his best when he’s actively flying around. When he’s getting steals, exploiting the defense and getting to the basket.
Oladipo still needs to improve his ball handling. He tried to split a couple defenders and fortunately for him, the ball was kicked. In the first half, he was a little too patient and the ball got stuck in his hands. What Bjorkgren wants for all of them is to attack and keep moving the ball.
“We’re tougher to guard when we turn the corner like that and get to the paint,” Bjorkgren said. “I like the finishes we did have at the rim, I just wish we would have had more of them. His pace was very good.”
After making 9 of 19 3-pointers in the first half, the Pacers made just 3 of 14 the rest of the way and none in the final quarter (0-6).
Myles Turner is piling up blocks and he also reclaimed his shooting touch. He made 3 of 6 attempts from range and finished with 16 points.
“I’m putting a lot of extra work in on my shot after the last game and the past couple of days,” he said. “I know I’m a great shooter, I think it’s just shaking off the rust right now. My teammates, coach and everybody’s given me the confidence and green light to go out there and shoot them. They’re going to have to fall eventually. I work to hard on it for them not to. Shooting with confidence is a big key.”
Though they should be 4-0 — if only they held on to their 11-point lead and weren’t outscored 33-17 in the 4th — the Pacers should be content with a 3-1 start. The roster and rotation is much the same, how they’re trying to execute is different.
“Definitely mostly positive,” said Myles Turner. “We’re still trying to figure a couple lineups out, a couple adjustments down the stretch but it’s early. We’re in a position where we have a deep roster so you can put a lot of different lineups out there. I think he’s testing them all out.”
So far, there’s actually been less experimenting than expected. Bjorkgren has a nine-man rotation with the same nine players Nate McMillan used. But he says he wants to get more players involved here soon and that would help keep the pace up.
“I feel extremely confident in this team, in this coach,” Brogdon said. “I think we have a brilliant coach. I think he’s incredibly smart and has a great handle on this team and the energy here. I’m excited about what this team is going to become.”
To close out 2021, the Pacers host their usual matinee game on New Year’s Eve — this time against the Cavaliers at 3:00 p.m. T.J. Warren, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis, will not play. The Cavs will be without Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova, Isaac Okoro, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler.