The Pacers brought plenty of fight on Tuesday night in Denver, but came up just short in their quest for a 4-0 road trip, falling to the Nuggets, 107-104.
The loss snapped a five-game win streak for Indiana (46-32) and thwarted their bid for a perfect Western Conference road trip. Still, the Blue & Gold will return to Indianapolis with their heads held high after beating the Warriors, Kings, and Clippers in their buildings over the course of the last week.
While Tuesday's game was important for the Pacers, who are still chasing Cleveland and Philadelphia for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, it meant even more to Denver. The Nuggets improved to 43-35 by beating the Pacers and are now just a half-game back of New Orleans for the final postseason spot in the West.
"We did some good things on this trip," Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win tonight and I thought (we had) a couple of mental mistakes down the stretch, (Denver) made some baskets that cost us this game."
PLAYOFF PICTURE: Track the Pacers' Playoff Push »
The Nuggets dominated the opening minutes of Tuesday's contest, with Will Barton scoring nine points in the first 2:10 to spark a 15-5 Denver run to open the game.
The Pacers, however, immediately answered with an 11-3 run of their own. A later 12-1 spurt spanning the end of the first and beginning of the second quarters allowed Indiana to take a 32-27 lead.
Both teams endured prolonged slumps in the middle of the second quarter, with the Blue & Gold managing only one field goal over a nearly seven-minute span. Jamal Murray's floater at the buzzer gave the hosts a 49-46 lead heading into the break.
The Nuggets created some separation again to open the third quarter, knocking down three straight 3-pointers and scoring the first 11 points of the second half to open up a 14-point lead.
The Pacers answered with a 10-0 run, only for Denver to reel off 10 unanswered points immediately afterwards. Indiana clawed its way back once again, eventually using a 9-2 run over the final 1:30 of the third quarter to trim its deficit to 77-73.
The Nuggets held the visitors at bay for much of the fourth quarter, though the Blue & Gold eventually made it a two-point game after two free throws by Thaddeus Young with 3:55 to play.
But Murray knocked down a three from the left corner to push Denver's lead back to 94-89. Paul Millsap came up with blocks on the Pacers' next two possessions and Barton got two points on the other end both times to help the Nuggets pad their cushion and effectively seal the win.
"I mean, we've been in those types of games many times and we've won, just tonight we kind of came up short," Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo said after the loss. "Confidence is still high, swagger is still high, we just have to continue to keep getting better."
A Pacers rally in the final minute which finished with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Darren Collison made the final margin appear closer than it actually was.
Oladipo led Indiana with 25 points, six rebounds, seven assists, and four steals in the loss. Young added 15 points and 10 rebounds, Collison had 16 points and five assists, and Domantas Sabonis scored 14 points off the bench.
Nikola Jokic led Denver with 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting (including 4-of-6 from 3-point range) to go along with six boards, seven assists, and four steals. Barton added 26 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists for the Nuggets, who have now won three straight.
The Pacers will return to Indianapolis to host the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday at 7:00 PM ET in the first half of a difficult back-to-back. Indiana visits East-leading Toronto on Friday night.
Inside the Numbers
Despite the loss, Oladipo — who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday — was sensational once again. He finished the road trip averaging 25.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 3.8 steals per game while going 39-for-62 from the field (62.9 percent).
Young recorded his ninth double-double of the season in the loss.
Indiana outscored Denver 25-9 in fastbreak points on Tuesday.
Jokic has now scored 30 or more points six times this season, including each of his past two games and four of his past 14 contests.
Barton had not recorded his second consecutive double-double on Tuesday. He had not recorded a double-double in any of his previous 75 games this season.
You Can Quote Me On That
"It was a great road trip. Unfortunately, we wanted to end it a little better. If we look at the bigger picture, it was a great road trip for us and we just have to continue to keep getting better like I said. Confidence is high." -Oladipo
"I think it is going to make us road-tough and battle-tested. It's definitely prepping us for the task at hand, which is going to the playoffs and trying to get some games. I think we have been doing a good job of handling it. Just going out there and just playing as a team." -Young on the challenges the Pacers have faced during this trip
"Jokic is a challenge to guard. His ability to spread the floor, shoot the three; I think he had a couple of threes tonight, his passing, post-up. They move him around. He does a good job of taking what the defense gives him." -McMillan
"Every game right now matters, obviously that's an understatement. So for us to go out there and continue to take care of business, three wins in a row (and tonight) against one of the better teams in the NBA in my opinion. (Indiana) is 12-4 in their last 16 games." -Nuggets head coach Michael Malone
"We executed and we were into them all night. We made it tough for them to finish and made it tough for Victor and Collison. We boxed them out and rebounded...It was a great win and we were playing great on both ends." -Murray
Stat of the Night
Including Tuesday's loss, the Pacers have now lost eight straight games in Denver. They last won in the Pepsi Center on Nov. 27, 2007. To put that into perspective, Oladipo — who turns 26 in May — was just a sophomore in high school the last time Indiana won in Denver.
- The all-time series between the Pacers and the Nuggets is now tied, with each team having won 44 meetings.
- Oladipo extended his franchise-record streak of games with at least one steal to 61. He needs a steal in his next two games to tie Gary Payton for the fifth-longest streak in league history.
- The Pacers' G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, fell to the Erie BayHawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Tuesday, ending their season. Pacers rookies Ike Anigbogu, Ben Moore, and Edmond Sumner were with the Mad Ants and are now expected to rejoin the NBA team in Indianapolis.
Following a four-game road trip, the Pacers return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to host Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, April 5 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »