Saturday, Jan. 21 at 9:00 PM ET at Footprint Center
Game Recap: Suns 112, Pacers 107
After opening their four-game road trip with three straight double-digit losses, the Pacers were in it until the final second on Saturday night in Phoenix.
In the end, though, the result was the same, as the Pacers (23-25) fell to the Suns (23-24), 112-107.
Bennedict Mathurin had 23 points and went 11-for-11 from the free throw line in the loss and Buddy Hield added 22 points on 5-of-12 3-point shooting and eight rebounds.
T.J. McConnell, inserted into the starting lineup for the first time all season, registered his third career triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.
But it wasn't quite enough as Indiana -- still without Tyrese Haliburton -- dropped its seventh consecutive contest against a Phoenix team missing five of its six top scorers.
The Pacers trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, but whittled the deficit down to 98-94 following Mathurin's reverse layup in transition with five minutes to play. But Josh Okogie hit one of two free throws at 4:42 and then swished a three from the right wing at 3:47 to push the margin back to eight.
The Blue & Gold made another charge when Saben Lee elbowed Hield in the face with 2:49 remaining, a foul that was upgraded to a flagrant 1 upon video review. Hield made both foul shots, then Mathurin scored 10 seconds later to make it 102-98.
Bismack Biyombo missed a pair of free throws on the other end. McConnell had a look at a reverse layup to bring Indiana within two, but couldn't get it to fall. On the other end, Aaron Nesmith picked up his sixth foul contesting Lee at the rim and his former Vanderbilt teammate made both free throws with 2:01 remaining.
Mathurin pushed the ball right down the floor and converted a basket through contact with Lee. It was initially called a charge, but Pacers coach Rick Carlisle successfully challenged the call. Mathurin then hit the free throw to complete the three-point play and make it a one-possession game with 1:55 left.
Lee was whistled for traveling and Hield had a look at a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:28 remaining, but couldn't get it to fall. On the other end, Ish Wainwright's triple pushed the Suns' lead back to six with 1:10 remaining.
The Pacers weren't done, as McConnell got the lane and converted a three-point play with 46.2 seconds remaining. But the Suns had an answer, as Wainwright connected with a cutting Jock Landale for a backdoor basket with the shot clock winding down to make it a two-possession game once again.
Hield drilled a deep three with 6.2 seconds remaining to keep the Pacers' hopes alive and McConnell fouled Lee. He hit the first but missed the second, leaving the door open for Indiana.
After a timeout, Carlisle drew up a play to get a look for Hield, but he rushed his look from the left wing and missed. Okogie hit two free throws with 0.9 seconds left and the Pacers fell for the seventh straight game.
"We fought all night," Carlisle said. "It's been a rough run here. I really liked the way we competed and hung in and all that, but getting the next win is going to be challenging. That's how it is in this league. It's never easy."
Okogie finished with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds and Mikal Bridges added 22 for Phoenix, which was already without All-Star guards Devin Booker (groin) and Chris Paul (hip) and also did not have starting center and former number-one pick Deandre Ayton on Saturday as the seven-footer was sidelined with a non-COVID illness.
The Suns went deep into their bench to pull out the victory. Damion Lee scored 16, Biyombo (12 points and 16 rebounds) and Landale (10 points and 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles, and Saben Lee -- playing on a 10-day contract -- tallied 12 points and four assists off the bench.
It was a close contest from the start on Saturday. After Damion Lee hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring, the Pacers reeled off 10 straight points on four baskets by four different players. The Suns answered with an 8-2 spurt and back and forth they went, as the opening frame featured six lead changes and two ties.
McConnell did his job running the offense, playing the entire first quarter and tallying six points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals. But it was Phoenix -- behind seven points from Bridges -- that took a 29-27 lead into the second quarter.
The Suns opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run. Back-to-back threes by Wainwright and former Pacer Duane Washington Jr. and a hook shot by Biyombo pushed the hosts' lead to 10.
The Blue & Gold answered, however. Oshae Brissett, Myles Turner, and Nesmith all knocked down threes before McConnell got in on the act, draining a triple from the top of the arc to cap a 17-5 Indiana run and take a 44-42 lead midway through the second quarter.
Bridges scored seven straight Phoenix points to put the hosts back in front. The Pacers re-took the lead on Hield's 3-pointer with 1:56 remaining in the half. Phoenix tied the game at 55, but Mathurin drew a foul and hit both free throws to put Indiana in front with 38.3 seconds left before the intermission.
But Damion Lee hit a hook shot on the other end and after Mathurin missed a layup in the closing seconds, Nesmith fouled Okogie on the rebound. Okogie hit both foul shots with three seconds on the clock to give the hosts a 59-57 lead at the break.
The third quarter was another back-and-forth affair, featuring six ties and six lead changes. Hield, Turner, and Jalen Smith all scored eight points for Indiana in the frame, and six straight by Smith gave the Blue & Gold an 83-80 lead with under two minutes remaining in the quarter.
But Saben Lee scored five quick points and Landale added a dunk as the hosts closed the quarter with a 7-0 spurt to take an 87-83 advantage into the fourth.
The hosts added to their lead to start the fourth quarter, as Okogie converted a three-point play and Damion Lee drained a three to help Phoenix extend its lead to nine with 9:34 remaining. The Pacers would ultimately be unable to complete the comeback from there.
"There's no quit," McConnell said. "I know we had a few breakdowns defensively at the end, but we played incredibly hard. We didn't quit and didn't lay down. Obviously it's tough without (injured star) Tyrese (Haliburton). You lose an All-Star caliber point guard, it's really hard and I think that's showing, but we're not going to put our head down and make excuses."
Turner finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks in the loss, while Smith tallied 11 points and six boards off the bench.
The Pacers will return to Indiana and have a couple days off before hosting Chicago on Tuesday. They will then travel to Orlando Wednesday before returning to Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host Milwaukee on Friday.
Inside the Numbers
Mathurin topped 20 points for the 18th time this season and set a new career best by making all 11 of his free throws.
Hield, who leads the NBA in 3-pointers made this season, had gone just 6-for-19 from beyond the arc over his past four contests -- including two games in which he failed to make a single 3-pointer. He bounced back Saturday with five treys -- his 18th game this season making five or more 3-pointers.
Turner swatted four more shots on Saturday and now has 11 games this season with at least four rejections, including four of his last five and six of his last 10 contests.
Both teams struggled from the field in the second half. Phoenix went just 14-for-47 (29.8 percent), but still managed to eke out the victory because the Pacers were barely any better at 16-for-47 (34 percent).
Postgame Media Availability: Jan. 21, 2023
You Can Quote Me On That
"McConnell was brilliant in this game. He had a triple-double and he was just tremendous...He's one of our best competitors. We needed our best competitors out there to start the game. Pretty simple really." -Carlisle on McConnell's performance and why he inserted him into the starting lineup
"The group I was with spaces the floor, gave me a lot of chances to drive. That's a credit to the players I'm playing with. They gave me the space and I just tried to get them the ball and shoot when I was open." -McConnell on his triple-double
"I think it's great for his confidence. He's hitting threes, he's making plays for us, and he's just being himself. When T.J. plays with confidence, he's a hell of a player." -Turner on McConnell's performance
"He's an aggressive player. That's who he is. He knew we needed him tonight. There were times where he got maybe a little overzealous just trying to create a little bit too much, but his heart's always in the right place. He wants to win, he's a hell of a teammate, and he's great at what he does. He made some amazing shots and got unlucky on a couple other plays." -Carlisle on Hield getting more shot attempts
"I think we were a bit more connected tonight. There will still a few miscues here and there, but it's just one game at a time right now." -Turner on defensive improvements
"It meant a lot. Obviously Phoenix was the first team to allow me to play in the NBA, my first home in the NBA. Just being back and around all the guys, it was emotional...It was just great to see the guys I built bonds with, the coaches I built bonds with." -Smith on playing in Phoenix for the first time since the Suns traded him to Indiana last February
Stat of the Night
McConnell's triple-double was the third in his eight-year NBA career and his second in a Pacers uniform. He had a triple-double with points, assists, and steals in an Indiana win in Cleveland on March 3, 2021 and recorded his first career triple-double for Philadelphia in a victory over New York on Feb. 12, 2018.
- The Pacers have lost three straight and five of their last six games against the Suns. The two teams will meet again at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Feb. 10.
- Indiana is now 6-3 on the season when playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
- Pacers radio play-by-play broadcaster Mark Boyle called his 3,000th game on Saturday. Boyle, the longtime radio voice of the Pacers, began his tenure with the team in November 1988.
- The Suns celebrated the 30th anniversary of their 1992-93 team that reached the NBA Finals on Saturday, with former players including 1992-93 NBA MVP Charles Barkley and All-Stars Tom Chambers, Kevin Johnson, and Dan Majerle honored during a halftime ceremony.
After a four-game road trip, the Pacers will be back at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets >>