Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7:00 PM ET at Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Game Recap: Pacers 126, Bucks 124
The Pacers could have easily packed it in on Thursday against the freight train that was two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
The Blue & Gold already had secured a winning homestand, were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, and saw what was once a double-digit lead disappear as Antetokounmpo got to the rim and free throw line seemingly at will, surpassing 50 points with over 10 minutes to play.
But Indiana (6-3) showed its resiliency, pulling off a fourth quarter comeback to stun Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (5-3) at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, 126-124.
All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton had 29 points and 10 assists and drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minutes, while second-year wing Bennedict Mathurin tallied his first career double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds and came up with a huge steal against Antetokounmpo late to help seal the victory.
With All-Star guard Damian Lillard sidelined by a sore right calf, Antetokounmpo did the heavy lifting for Milwaukee and was seemingly unstoppable for much of the night, amassing 54 points and 12 rebounds while going 19-for-25 from the field and 16-for-18 from the free throw line. But the Pacers managed to find a way to slow him down when it counted the most.
"The only way you really grow as a team in this league is to be battle-tested under tough circumstances," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. "Tonight there were some very tough circumstances and our guys did a tremendous job of (displaying) their collective will and hanging in there. Nobody every dropped their head. They stayed positive. It was all about finding a way to get the next stop, the next score, (and) winning the game."
The Pacers led by as many as 18 in the first quarter, but saw the lead slowly evaporate as Antetokounmpo scored 18 points in the second quarter and 20 in the third.
Milwaukee led by 10 with seven minutes remaining on Thursday before the Pacers mounted a charge.
Indiana scored on two straight possessions, with Haliburton hitting his fourth three of the night at the 6:54 mark and Mathurin converting a reverse layup 44 seconds later.
Antetokounmpo answered with two more layups, but the Pacers didn't give in. The Blue & Gold scored on back-to-back possessions off of offensive rebounds, with Andrew Nembhard drilling a three with 4:52 to play and then Mathurin converting a dunk with 4:12 left that trimmed the deficit to 117-113.
After a timeout, the Pacers doubled Antetokounmpo in the post and forced a turnover. On the other end, Myles Turner got Brook Lopez to bite on a pump-fake and scored to cut the deficit to two with 3:35 remaining.
Mathurin tied the game at 119 a minute later, getting into the paint and converting a layup.
Cameron Payne's runner from the baseline put the Bucks in front with 1:41 remaining, but Haliburton answered on the other end, draining the go-ahead three over Payne with 1:29 remaining.
The Pacers got stops on the next three Milwaukee possessions, the biggest one coming when Mathurin knocked the ball free from Antetokounmpo on the block with 30 seconds to play.
"It was big," Mathurin said of coming through on the defensive end. "That's the main thing I've been working on the whole summer, guarding the best player on the other team. It was great. It was great to have a couple stops."
Milwaukee fouled Aaron Nesmith on the other end and he made both free throws with 8.4 seconds remaining. After a timeout, the Bucks ran a play to get Khris Middleton a shot to tie the game, but the All-Star forward missed a three from the right wing and the ball went out of bounds on the opposite side of the court.
Bruce Brown sealed the victory with two free throws before Middleton made a meaningless three at the buzzer.
"In the last three minutes, we did two or three things defensively that we really haven't worked on this year," Carlisle said. "We talked about them a little bit at halftime but (primarily) in huddles and our guys did an amazing job of executing the double-teams and the swarming.
"It just came down to whichever team wanted it a little more than the other. And our guys really wanted it."
The Pacers surged ahead early on Thursday. Milwaukee led 5-3 following Antetokounmpo's basket at the 10:06 mark before the Pacers promptly reeled off 17 straight points.
That run featured back-to-back threes from Mathurin followed by Haliburton connecting on a full-court pass to a streaking Obi Toppin for a breakaway layup. Toppin capped the spurt with a three of his own.
Indiana ultimately scored on nine straight possessions, with Turner's 3-pointer pushing the lead to 25-7 midway through the opening quarter.
The Bucks got their offense going in the latter half of the frame and managed to have the margin down to 11 in the closing seconds of the quarter before Buddy Hield found Nesmith spotting up in the left corner for another 3-pointer — Indiana's eighth of the quarter — that made it 38-24 after the opening 12 minutes.
Milwaukee continued to chip away at the margin early in the ensuing quarter, as Antetokounmpo had two three-point plays during an 11-2 run to open the frame.
Mathurin got the Indiana offense going again, hitting another three and converting a three-point play of his own to push the lead back to 12.
But Antetokounmpo and the Bucks kept coming, using a 15-5 run to get within two with 2:45 to play in the first half. That would be the closest they would get before the intermission, however, and a late three from Haliburton (after Brown won a jump ball against Antetokounmpo) pushed the margin back to six at 66-60 entering the break.
Antetokounmpo picked up where he left off after halftime, repeatedly attacking the paint at the start of the third quarter. He drew four fouls while scoring 12 of Milwaukee's first 14 points. The final three points in that stretch — yet another three-point play — gave the Bucks a 74-73 lead with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
Antetokounmpo already had 42 points and Milwaukee led 81-77 when he subbed out with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter. Indiana took advantage of his absence, reeling off seven straight points to surge back in front. Daniel Theis — playing his first minutes of the season — started the run with a dunk off a dish from Haliburton, then Hield scored the next five on a layup and a three.
Antetokounmpo checked back in at the four-minute mark, however, and helped the visitors retake the lead with four more free throws to cap a 20-point quarter. Nembhard gave Indiana some life with a buzzer-beating three that trimmed the deficit to 94-93 entering the final frame.
But the Bucks opened the fourth quarter with a 10-3 run, with Malik Beasley knocking down two threes and Antetokounmpo converting two more layups over that stretch to hit the 50-point plateau with over 10 minutes to play.
The Bucks led 113-103 following another Beasley three with 7:08 remaining, but the Pacers outscored Milwaukee 23-11 the rest of the way to pull off the comeback.
"We just had to get stops," Haliburton said after the victory. "We figured it out however we could down the stretch. We had to stop fouling. That guy's tough for anybody to guard. He shot 18 free throws tonight, only missed two. When he's doing that, it's a tough out for anybody.
"But we dug down and figured it out defensively and then offensively that allowed us to play little more up-tempo, play a little more our game offensively and we just made timely buckets."
Turner finished with 21 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the victory for Indiana, going 4-for-9 from 3-point range. Brown had a strong all-around game, tallying 11 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and two steals. Hield added 11 points off the bench, while fellow reserve Nembhard scored 10.
Middleton had 19 points in the loss for Milwaukee, Beasley added 13, and Bobby Portis tallied 11 points and eight boards off the bench.
The Pacers finished a busy homestand that featured five games in seven days with a 4-1 record. They will travel to Philadelphia this weekend for two straight games against the 76ers, playing them on both Sunday and Tuesday.
In a strange twist, Tuesday's game has slightly more meaning, as it is Indiana's second game in the NBA's new In-Season Tournament.
Inside the Numbers
Mathurin scored a season-high 26 points and recorded his first-ever double-double, pulling down 11 rebounds for his first career game with double-digit rebounds. He had tallied nine rebounds on three occasions prior to Thursday.
Haliburton recorded his seventh double-double in eight games to start the season. Haliburton went 10-for-17 from the field and 5-for-9 from 3-point range on Thursday.
Turner surpassed 20 points for the fifth time in nine contests this year.
Veteran center Theis made his season debut for the Pacers, forced into action in the third quarter as Antetokounmpo got several Indiana frontcourt players into foul trouble. Theis played the final 8:26 of the third quarter and tallied two points and just one foul.
Indiana had a decisive advantage from 3-point range, going 20-for-28 (41.7 percent) to the Bucks' 9-for-27 (33.3 percent).
Milwaukee outscored Indiana 60-40 in points in the paint.
Antetokounmpo's 54 points were one shy of his career high and matched the most ever by an opposing player at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Russell Westbrook scored 54 points for Oklahoma City on April 12, 2015.
Indiana Pacers Postgame Media Availability (vs. Milwaukee Bucks) | November 9, 2023
You Can Quote Me On That
"Just playing Pacers basketball. They're tough to guard, but we're tough to guard, too. For a minute there, it just felt like we were trading buckets for the majority of the game. And ultimately it comes down to who can get enough stops at the right time." -Haliburton on staying resilient through Antetokounmpo's scoring outbursts
"To take care of home in front of these fans, it was electric in there tonight." -Brown on the atmosphere at Gainbridge Fieldhouse
"Benn Mathurin is taking significant strides each game now. He's starting to really understand what it means to have the responsibility of being one of those guys that we rely on to score and rely on to be solid defensively and to secure possessions. I'm real proud of him because this transition (from sixth man to starter) is not easy. It involves a lot of sacrifice. It involves really having to take a different view of yourself and the game and how you fit into a group of players that you care about. He's been tremendous these (last) two games." -Carlisle on Mathurin's performance
"Just being me. I had a tough start to the season and I'm going to have bad games, having such a long season. The main thing for me is just to be myself every single day. The main thing for us is to win. I'm willing to do everything in order for us to win." -Mathurin on bouncing back after a slow start to the season offensively
"I thought he was great. He's just playing the right way right now, figuring it out. That's the biggest thing. 11 rebounds is big against a team like that that rebounds so well. I thought he was just letting the game come to him and playing the right way...The last couple games he just went out there and played basketball." -Haliburton on Mathurin's performance
"We're playing really well right now...I feel like we're handling things the right way. Everybody's contributing. We probably have truthfully the best bench in the NBA right now. Everybody's doing a good job of starting quarters, ending quarters, and just figuring out ways to win. We're rolling right now." -Haliburton on the team's strong play to start the season
"There were a couple plays where he was just a sheer force of will to come up with the ball...You don't win the game without it." -Carlisle on Mathurin's effort down the stretch
"We have a lot of guys on this team who can go ahead and get 20 (points). We have a lot of guys that can go ahead and get 10 rebounds. I feel like we have a lot of depth on the team and that's really a blessing." -Mathurin on why the Pacers have gotten off to a strong start to the season
"Theis — you can't say enough about what a pro he is. He went into one of the most difficult situations guarding a guy that had 40 points or something like that and held his own and helped us get some things loosened up on offense, too." -Carlisle on Theis' minutes
Stat of the Game
Antetokounmpo had a monster night, but the Pacers held him scoreless over the final five minutes of Thursday's contest, limiting the two-time MVP to just two shots and forcing him into two turnovers.
- The Pacers snapped a five-game losing streak against Milwaukee at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. They had dropped 11 of their last 12 and 15 of their last 17 contests against their Central Division rivals entering Thursday.
- Pacers backup big man Jalen Smith was active but ruled out shortly before tipoff because of a sore lower back.
- Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin was ejected after picking up two technicals for arguing with the officials with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter.
- Hield's two threes broke a tie with Carmelo Anthony for 27th place in NBA history. Hield now has 1,733 career 3-pointers. Next up is Peja Stojakovic at 1,760 career threes.
- The Pacers wore their 2023-24 CITY EDITION uniforms for the second time this season and debuted a new CITY EDITION court on Thursday.
Indiana will travel to Philadelphia for the first of two straight games against the 76ers on Sunday, Nov. 12 at 6:00 PM ET.
The Pacers return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 5:00 PM ET. Find Tickets >>