When life gets tough, a boost from a friend can help.
Carrying a six-game losing streak and staring down a tough opponent, the duo of Lance Stephenson and Domantas Sabonis put on a show for fans at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Pairing up several times, Sabonis recorded a career-high 42 points on 18-of-22 shooting, Stephenson finished with 16 and a career-high 14 assists, and Indiana (15-25) came away with a 125-113 victory over the Utah Jazz (28-12) Friday night. The duo fended off a 36-point return from Donovan Mitchell, who sat out last night against the Raptors.
Throughout the game, the tandem worked as one. With Rudy Gobert out due to health and safety protocols, Stephenson diced up the Jazz's interior, drawing defenders and placing passes with pinpoint precision. He also made buckets when needed, speeding up the offense with driving layups and quick jumpers. He brought the crowd to its feet several times on a cold night in Indianapolis.
"Lance has given us a different vibe as a team," praised Rick Carlisle postgame. "The spark that he has provided – the personality...there's a change in our team."
"He's great. He's my guy," Sabonis added. "Me and him have a chemistry in the pick-and-roll. He does a great job in reading the game."
Using that energy, Justin Holiday (15 points) capped the night with two clutch fourth-quarter triples to stop the opponents from coming back late – a sight seen far too often this season for Pacers fans. When the game was in hand, Stephenson tugged at his jersey and roared with the crowd.
"I was just so excited we got the win tonight," he said. "I had to get the fans involved because that's like family."
Early on, Utah's potent 3-point shooting earned the visitors an early advantage. Mitchell knocked in three early triples, including a 28-footer at the 8:19 mark that gave the visitors a 14-8 lead.
Trailing 20-15 and with 6:17 remaining, the Pacers' bench began closing the gap. Fresh off his memorable night, Stephenson dished a beautiful bounce pass to Sabonis for an easy bucket. With 3:03 to play, Stephenson nailed his first shot – a triple – to grab a 24-23 Indiana lead.
Down the stretch, the defense limited the high-scoring Jazz to four additional points. Meanwhile, Stephenson and Sabonis combined for five straight in the final minute, and the Blue & Gold took a 33-27 lead into the second. Sabonis finished with 18 in the frame.
The Pacers continued to control the lead early in the second. Stephenson tallied a steal-and-finish, while Holiday buried a trey to extend the edge to 40-31 with 8:37 to go.
Later, a Pacers youngster heated up to extend the lead to double digits. Leading 42-36, Duane Washington Jr. knocked in nine points – all from deep – of an 11-3 Indiana run to give the squad a 53-39 advantage with 6:01 remaining. After a Jazz timeout, Sabonis added a left-handed flush to stretch the lead to 16.
However, the Jazz started climbing back late in the second with a 9-0 spree. The Pacers' offense suffered a 2:38 scoreless streak before Chris Duarte's bucket first bucket dropped with 1:55 to play. The 18-footer pushed Indiana's lead to 57-48.
The jumper sparked the Blue & Gold, as Myles Turner tallied his third swat of the half, and Stephenson drilled another one to extend their lead to 11. The squad led 61-52 at halftime.
Threes by Keifer Sykes and Holiday in the first two minutes helped give the Blue & Gold two 11-point leads early in the third. The squad led by as many as 13 before the Jazz rattled off seven straight to cut the gap to 70-63 with 7:36 remaining. Former Pacer Bojan Bogdanovic and Mitchell then knocked in threes to cut the lead to one.
Yet, the Pacers held on. Stephenson and Duarte found buckets to keep the squad in front. Then, Sabonis went back-and-forth with Bogdanovic to maintain an 81-78 edge with 4:03 left.
Down the stretch, the energy of Stephenson kept the Pacers ahead. He started with a stepback jumper with 2:29 left. Attacking the rim, he drew a foul and knocked in a free throw. With 1:31 left, he picked off Bogdanovic's pass and launched the ball to an open Osahe Brissett down the court for his seventh assist. Sabonis capped the third with a hook shot. The Blue & Gold led 90-86 going into the final frame.
Sabonis' three-point play quickly pushed Indiana's lead to seven. But, Jordan Clarkson closed the gap quickly with five unanswered in 24 seconds.
Nonetheless, the Blue & Gold made the plays needed to stay in front. Turner collected his fourth block, and Keifer Sykes defended the Jazz's guards well up top to keep Utah from erupting. On offense, the Pacers got a few points from Jeremy Lamb. After hitting a pair of free throws, the veteran banked in a finger-roll layup to earn a 99-95 lead with 7:52 left.
1:02 later, Stephenson fired a no-look pass – with some added flair – to Sabonis for another easy finish. It pushed Indiana's lead to six and forced a Utah timeout.
Then, the squad closed it out.
Leading 101-97, the Pacers rattled off eight unanswered points in an exciting fashion. First, Holiday buried back-to-back threes. Then, Sykes – the smallest guy on the floor – soared for an offensive putback among the trees to push the lead to 12 with 5:17 remaining.
Mitchell tried to bring the Jazz back for a spell. But, Stephenson fed Sabonis once again for another easy bucket with 2:29 left. Sykes then added a pair of free throws to give Indiana a 117-107 lead.
With 1:19 remaining, Stephenson found Sabonis one more time for a jumper. The big man then hit 1-of-2 at the line to stretch the lead to 120-113 with 53.5 seconds remaining. The Blue & Gold easily held on from there.
Inside the Numbers
Along with Sabonis and Stephenson, Washington (16 points) and Holiday (15 points) finished in double figures for Indiana.
Stephenson finished with 16 points, six rebounds, 14 assists, and four steals. His last points-assists double-double was nearly eight years ago, during his first stint with the Pacers.
The Pacers dished out 30 assists and committed only 10 turnovers.
Stephenson (+14), Sabonis (+13), and Keifer Sykes (+12) all finished with a double-digit +/- rating.
You Can Quote Me On That
"It's not even about stats. It's just about a different kind of energy that we really need." –Carlisle on Stephenson
"The game becomes more fun. When you are having fun playing defense, and everybody is on the same page, the game becomes more fun, and you want to play out there. It makes you want to go out there and hustle for each other." –Stephenson on sensing the energy he brings to the team
"I feel like (Sabonis) got better. The older he got, he's even better than when I was here the last time. It's amazing the progress. He's getting better every time." –Stephenson on the chemistry with Sabonis
Stat of the Night
Sabonis' 42 points were the most by a Pacer since T.J. Warren scored 53 on Aug. 1, 2020. It is the most points by a Pacer in Gainbridge Fieldhouse since Victor Oladipo dropped 47 on Dec. 10, 2017.
- The Pacers have swept the season series against the Jazz for the first time since the 2018-19 season.
- Myles Turner added four blocks to his league-leading total. He has 116 swats this year.
- Indiana outscored its opponent in the fourth quarter for just the third time in the last 12 games.
The Pacers travel to Boston to tip off a home-and-home set with the Celtics on Monday, Jan. 10 at 7:30 PM ET.
The Pacers return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »