Sunday's game followed an all-too-familiar script for Pacers fans.
The Blue & Gold entered the evening playing arguably their best basketball of the season, having won three of four, with their wins over that span coming by an average margin of 22 points.
But unfortunately for Indiana, their opponent Sunday was the Milwaukee Bucks. The defending NBA champions (13-8) pulled away in the third quarter and cruised to a 118-100 win over the Pacers (9-13) at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. It was the seventh straight win for the Bucks on the season, but also their sixth in a row over Indiana.
Milwaukee has won 11 of 13 meetings with their Central Division rivals over the past four seasons, with nine of those 11 wins coming by double digits and the other two by nine points. The Bucks have now swept a pair of games in Indianapolis this season (they also won on Oct. 25) with two remaining meetings set for later this season in Milwaukee.
Caris LeVert was a bright spot for the Pacers in the loss, scoring a season-high 23 points in just 26 minutes, going 9-for-13 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
But it wasn't enough to overcome big performances from two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday (23 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists), who led the Bucks to victory.
"The second quarter was rough, the third quarter was rougher," Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. "Against a team like this, you've got to be super tight. You've got to be doing everything right, you've got to be making shots. We just struggled. We struggled with their great players and just didn't have enough in the tank tonight."
LeVert scored five early points and Indiana and Milwaukee were tied at 8 minutes into Sunday's contest. But the Pacers subsequently missed six straight shots — all of them from beyond the 3-point arc — allowing the Bucks to reel off nine unanswered points to open up a lead.
The shots eventually started to fall, as LeVert, Chris Duarte, and Malcolm Brogdon all hit threes during a 9-2 Indiana run to climb within three. The Blue & Gold tied the game twice in the final minutes of the opening frame and had two looks at the rim at the end of the quarter to take the lead, but couldn't get either to fall, as the two teams entered the second quarter knotted at 26.
The Bucks opened the second quarter with every starter but Antetokounmpo on the floor and reeled off a quick 8-0 run against a lineup featuring four Indiana reserves. Both teams subbed after a Pacers timeout, but Holiday's subsequent jumper capped 10 unanswered points from the visitors over the first 2:14 of the frame.
The Pacers fought their way back, cutting the deficit to 43-39 on LeVert's jumper with 4:15 remaining in the first half. That would be the closest they got before halftime, but LeVert did his best to keep the Blue & Gold within striking distance scoring 10 of Indiana's final 12 points in the half. Still, the visitors took a 52-47 lead into the intermission.
"My game feels good," LeVert said. "I think more importantly, though, my body feels good. It's getting more adjusted to playing heavier minutes, longer stretches."
LeVert and Brogdon combined for 12 of the Pacers' first 17 points in the third quarter and Indiana trailed just 70-64 at the midway point of the frame. But the Blue & Gold missed seven of eight shots as Milwaukee strung together an 11-2 run to extend its lead to 15.
The Bucks pushed the lead as high as 19 in the frame and took a 91-74 advantage into the fourth quarter. The hosts never seriously threatened over the final 12 minutes, with Carlisle electing to empty his bench in the final minutes.
Brogdon tallied 16 points for Indiana in the loss. Duarte added 10 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while T.J. McConnell and Justin Holiday both also tallied 10 for the Blue & Gold.
Bobby Portis had 15 points and six rebounds for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton registered 14 points, five boards, and five assists. Reserves Pat Connaughton (14 points and seven rebounds) and George Hill (13 points and six boards) also reached double figures.
The Pacers will head to Minnesota on Monday to face the Timberwolves on the second night of a back-to-back before returning to Indy to tip off a season-long six-game homestand on Wednesday against Atlanta.
Inside the Numbers
LeVert's four 3-pointers were his most in a game this season. He has now gone 7-for-10 from beyond the arc over the last two games after shooting just 20.8 percent from 3-point range over his first 12 contests this season.
The Bucks outscored Indiana 39-27 in the third quarter. It was the most points the Pacers have allowed in the third quarter this season.
Domantas Sabonis scored a season-low four points on 1-of-8 shooting on Sunday. It was just the fourth time in 22 games this season that the Pacers' All-Star forward failed to reach double figures.
The Pacers held Milwaukee to 8-of-35 (22.9 percent) shooting from 3-point range, but went just 12-for-45 (26.7 percent) themselves.
Pacers center Myles Turner, the NBA's leading shotblocker, failed to block a shot for the first time this season.
Antetokounmpo recorded his 12th double-double of the season.
You Can Quote Me On That
"He was the one guy that really generated some things. When we got to the point in the third quarter where it was time for him to rotate out, the score really started going the other way...He's generating a lot in the paint. His rhythm is better. I think our recognition of how to play with him in that aggressive mode is improving and we've got to keep building on it." -Carlisle on LeVert finding his groove offensively
"When I just go into (moves) without thinking about it, I think that's very telling. I feel like tonight I wasn't really thinking about my back or anything like that." -LeVert on feeling healthier
"We're seeing virtually every team we play swarm Sabonis. Put two and three guys, hack, slash at him. If you look at his arms you'll see all kinds of marks, cuts, things like that. It's indicative of the respect that teams have for him, but I do think he takes a beating in there." -Carlisle on Sabonis' inability to get going on the inside
"I think we took a few quick ones, but for the most part I think we took good shots. I think we took good threes. We just couldn't knock them down." -Brogdon on the Pacers' struggles from beyond the arc
"We're still focusing on us and trying to put the best product and best team out there. Playing the team that won the championship, you see the level that you have to be at each night as far as just the mistakes you make, the mistakes you can't make, and just the level that you approach the game." -Justin Holiday on viewing games against the Bucks as a measuring stick
Stat of the Night
The Bucks outscored Indiana 62-36 in the paint on Sunday.
- The Bucks have won their last three games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Indiana's last home win (and last win overall) against Milwaukee was a 118-111 victory on Feb. 12, 2020.
- Carlisle received a technical foul for arguing an offensive foul on Sabonis with 1:30 remaining in the second quarter.
- Rookie forward Isaiah Jackson played the final 9:15 for Indiana. The 21st overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft scored four points on 2-of-4 shooting and pulled down three rebounds during his time on the court.
Indiana travels to Minnesota to take on Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and the Timberwolves on Monday, Nov. 29 at 8:00 PM ET.
The Pacers open a six-game homestand against Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Wednesday, Dec. 1 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »