GAME RECAP: Nuggets 124, Pacers 116

Michael Porter Jr. scores 25 points as the Nuggets get the win over the Pacers, 124-116.

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GAME RECAP: Nuggets 124, Pacers 116

Michael Porter Jr. scores 25 points as the Nuggets get the win over the Pacers, 124-116.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:01

Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Jan. 2, 2020

Jan. 2, 2020 - Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb, and Myles Turner discuss Indiana's 124-116 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jan 2, 2020  |  01:37

Postgame: McMillan Press Conference - Jan. 2, 2020

Jan. 2, 2020 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan speaks with the media following Indiana's 124-116 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jan 2, 2020  |  02:54

Turner Makes Smooth And-One on the Break

Myles Turner runs the floor and finishes the break with the finger roll through the contact.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:09

McConnell Finds Warren Cutting

T.J. McConnell cleans up a broken play finding T.J. Warren cutting to the basket for two points.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:09

McConnell Hits Tough Layup to End Q1

Indy runs a great inbound play, leading to a T.J. McConnell layup to end the opening period.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:07

Domas Throws It Down

Domantas Sabonis and T.J. McConnell run the pick-&-roll leading to a big slam for Domas.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:07

Lamb Hits Transition Trey

T.J. Warren gets the steal to start the fastbreak and hits Jeremy Lamb for the three pointer on the wing.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:14

Lamb to Turner for the Slam

Lamb drives inside and dishes to Myles Turner for the easy slam.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:08

Domas Finds Aaron Inside

Domas find Aaron Holiday cutting to the basket for the lay up.
Jan 2, 2020  |  00:10

Pacers Bounced on the Boards Again

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

If you shoot 52 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3-point range and commit just nine turnovers, you've done a fine job offensively and should win the game.

Unless, of course, you falter defensively in the closing moments and continue to get dominated on the glass, in which case you lose the way the Pacers did to Denver on Thursday, 124-116.

The Nuggets grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, converted them into 19 second-chance points, and scored 66 points in the paint to overcome what might have been the Pacers' best quarter of the season to start the game, one in which they led by as many as 14 points with nearly flawless play at both ends.

Rebounding and playing well with a lead have been issues for the Pacers all season and they paid for both of those flaws in what could have been a meaningful victory over the team with the second-best record in the Western Conference. Filling those gaps is much more of a mental process than a physical one, and one that is much more easily solved by the players than the coaches.

The Pacers hit nine of their first 10 shots to take a 24-10 lead and force a Denver timeout, but it's never good when your peak moment comes with 5 minutes, 23 seconds still to play in the first quarter.

Their lead was down to 10 after the first period despite hitting 71 percent of their 21 shots. It was down to two by halftime. It had dissolved into a four-point deficit after three quarters and they trailed by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter.

"We were just cruising because we were making shots," said Domantas Sabonis, who finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists.

"We were only up two at the half, but it felt like we were up 15, maybe. We should have been smarter and got a larger lead."

It all came crashing down on the Pacers in the fourth quarter, when Denver outrebounded them 15-7 and outscored them on second-chance points, 10-3. The most damaging sequence came after Jeremy Lamb hit a 3-pointer with 5:10 left to bring the Pacers within four points. The Pacers forced a miss on Jamal Murray's turnaround shot from 12 feet, but Paul Millsap grabbed the rebound under the basket, which led to Michael Porter Junior's basket on a strong take to the rim to give the Nuggets a six-point lead.

That lead was soon stretched to 10 when Nikola Jokic rebounded Murray's missed layup, missed a putback, but hit his second tip with 2 1/2 minutes left.

The Pacers have now been outrebounded in 13 of their previous 14 games. The lone exception in that stretch was in their victory over the Lakers, who they outrebounded by just one. The puzzling element of the problem is that starting in November and running through their victory at Oklahoma City on Dec. 4 they were outrebounded just four times in 17 games — and by a total of just 10 rebounds in those four games.

"We've been talking about rebounding for two years," an obviously frustrated coach Nate McMillan said afterward. "We knew coming into the season it was going to be a challenge. You've got to finish the play by rebounding the basketball. That's the hustle part of the game."

Sabonis, who ranks fifth in the NBA with a 13.1 average, might not be the one to ask for a solution given his contributions. But he was, and he was correct in pointing out that the rebounds off missed perimeter shots have hurt the Pacers most.

"We've just got to focus more," he said. "There's a lot more long rebounds now and everybody is used to running into the paint. We've got to focus on everybody being in the right spots."

Lamb might not be the one to ask, either. He averages 4.7 rebounds, a good number for a guard, and had six on Thursday. But he was.

"We've just got to lock in on it," he said.

Jeremy Lamb

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

Had the Pacers locked in on rebounding, Lamb's best offensive game of the season wouldn't have been wasted. He scored a season-high 30 points while hitting all five 3-point shots and all seven free throws and played an error-free 37 minutes.

Myles Turner added 21 and T.J. Warren 20, but the Pacers didn't have enough double-figure scorers to outscore the Nuggets.

Porter Jr., who averaged 5.3 points heading into the game, scored a career-high 25 on 11-of-12 shooting. The 6-foot-10 small forward played just three games in his only season at Missouri before he was forced out by a back injury but was drafted 14th overall in 2018 anyway. He sat out last season as well but showed the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse why Denver showed so much faith in him.

"It was another glimpse into a very bright future," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.

The Pacers got Jokic into early foul trouble and limited him to 24 minutes, but he scored 12 points in the final 7:49, including eight in a row on four consecutive possessions. Two came after Aaron Holiday had switched onto him. Two more came on the next possession after Justin Holiday took him after a switch. After a Pacers timeout, assistant coach Dan Burke spent a few moments outside the huddle with Myles Turner to talk defensive strategy, but it didn't help. Jokic scored on a spinning shot over Turner on Denver's next possession.

The Pacers might have been better off with a slow start that forced them to play from behind. Thursday's game was the fourth consecutive loss in which they squandered a comfortable leads. They led New Orleans 32-19 after the first quarter but lost by 22 points. They led Miami by nine points early in the second period but lost by one. And they led Milwaukee 10-0 but lost by 28.

Given that trend, being up 14 on the Nuggets was more ominous than encouraging.

"(Denver) is a great team, you shouldn't relax," McMillan said. "They started getting aggressive defensively and started getting aggressive offensively and attacking. That's what you're supposed to do."

That and get aggressive on the boards.

being up 14 on the Nuggets was more ominous than encouraging. There is plenty of encouragement to be taken from the Pacers' 22-13 record and the fact they have played without Victor Oladipo and, for eight games and the better part of two others, Malcolm Brogdon. But their primary flaws are as difficult to fix as they are easy to identify.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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