Coming off two impressive wins, the undermanned Pacers looked to knock off another championship-ready squad, the league-leading Phoenix Suns.
Unfortunately, the Blue & Gold (17-30) fell short of another heroic victory. After fiercely competing in the first half, Phoenix (36-9) outscored the Pacers, 33-20, in the third quarter. Trailing by 22 in the fourth, the Pacers battled back to cut the deficit to as few as six. But, late mistakes and missed rebounds stifled Indiana’s chances. The Suns left Footprint Center with a 113-103 win.
"Phoenix is a really good fourth-quarter team," Rick Carlisle said. "So, to win the fourth by eight (29-21) is a positive for us. In the end, (there were) too many turnovers, and we had some miscommunications on defense that was costly."
In total, Indiana committed 18 turnovers that turned into 22 Suns points. Meanwhile, the hosts only surrendered 11.
On a bright note, six Pacers finished in double figures. Chris Duarte and Lance Stephenson led the squad with 17 points apiece. Goga Bitadze had another impressive showing, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Jeremy Lamb added 14 points and finished with a +4 rating.
"(I'm) just staying working," Bitadze said of his recent success. "After games, after practices, (I'm) getting extra work in, and staying ahead of the game."
The Pacers' defense held Devin Booker to 11 points on 5-of-23 shooting. But Mikal Bridges and Bismack Biyombo made up the difference. Bridges finished with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting, while Biyombo tied his career-high with 21 points and hauled in 13 boards. He and 13-year veteran JaVale McGee (13 points) outrebounded Bitadze and Isaiah Jackson, 25-14.
Phoenix jumped out to a 12-4 lead after Indiana started 1-of-6 from the floor. The Suns held the lead over the next few minutes. But Indiana kept fighting. Trailing 16-10, the Blue & Gold rattled off a 10-2 run to earn a two-point lead. Keifer Sykes added the final punch, nailing a baseline trey from the right side. Phoenix called a timeout with 1:51 remaining to regroup.
The Suns grabbed a 22-20 lead for a brief moment, but the Pacers’ first-round rookies quickly flipped the script. Jackson knotted the score with two free throws. Then, Duarte followed with a fortunate trey through a foul. Indiana led 25-24 after one.
Phoenix and Indiana traded early 6-0 runs to produce a one-point game with 9:50 remaining in the second. However, the Suns regained a six-point lead after getting a few shots to fall. Leading 36-35, Bridges hit a triple from the left side. Chris Paul capped the Suns’ spree with a jumper to force a timeout with 7:37 remaining.
Phoenix's lead bounced between six and eight points as the squads battled. Paul found the points for the Suns, while Stephenson and Bitadze added four each for the Pacers. Lamb’s three-point play at the 4:52 mark broke the streak and trimmed the Pacers' deficit to 51-46.
Three consecutive turnovers hindered the Pacers from catching the Suns before the break. But a Duarte triple and a Bitadze layup from the rookie's dish cut the deficit to 57-54 with 55.5 seconds left. Unfortunately, Bridges added one last jumper, giving the Suns a five-point edge at the break.
The Pacers came up empty on their first five possessions, and Phoenix’s lead swelled to 65-54 on Paul's fadeaway with 9:51 remaining in the third. Rick Carlisle called a timeout in an attempt to refocus the squad.
The Pacers briefly cut the lead to eight after Duarte connected on a driving layup. However, an 8-2 Suns spurt pushed the margin to 75-61 at the 6:05 mark. Transition buckets by Biyombo and Bridges helped widen the gap.
Things got worse for Indiana as the period continued. The squad suffered a 3:48 scoreless streak, and the Suns' veterans increased the deficit even more. Biyombo's alley-oop finish off Paul's 13th assist pushed the lead to 81-61 with 4:02 to go.
Eventually, the Blue & Gold found some footing and cut into the Suns' advantage. The squad mounted a 7-0 spree — four from Stephenson — to come within 13 of the lead with 2:47 to play.
However, that was as close as they got in the frame. Biyombo continued to hurt Indiana in the paint, and a Landry Shamet triple with 54.1 seconds left pushed Phoenix’s lead to 92-74 before the fourth quarter.
Biyombo hurt Indiana in the paint to begin the fourth, hitting two early buckets to keep the lead at 20 on two occasions.
But soon after, the squad started to rally. Trailing 98-76, Indiana mounted an 11-3 run to cut Phoenix's cushion to 101-87 with 7:51 to play. Bitadze capped the run by slamming home an offensive rebound.
After a Phoenix timeout, McGee stopped the spree with a makeshift floater. Yet, Indiana continued.
Anchored by two triples from Torrey Craig, the Blue & Gold rattled off a 10-2 spree. Bitadze also capped this one, connecting on a running reverse layup through a foul with 4:27 to go. The athletic play cut the deficit to 105-97.
With 3:59 left, Duarte drained a step-back jumper to cut the lead to six. However, the squad failed to gather in several rebounds on the other end. Eventually, on the fourth attempt, Cam Johnson made Indiana pay with a trey. It pushed Phoenix’s lead to 108-99.
The squad deflated after the fourth-chance bucket fell. The Blue & Gold stumbled offensively on its next three consecutive possessions, misfiring once and turning the ball over twice. The Suns put the game away without another threat.
Inside the Numbers
The trio of Bridges, Biyombo, and Paul finished 27-of-38 (71 percent) from the floor.
Lance Stephenson's 17 points came in 17:40 of playing time.
The Suns outrebounded the Pacers, 51-44, including 14-12 on the offensive glass.
You Can Quote Me On That
"We've been a team that battles pretty much all year. If we're having lulls, we'll find some guys that'll pick it up and get down and dirty. For the most part, this team plays hard." –Carlisle on the team not giving up
"We just decided to stay together and keep fighting, no matter what. That happens, that's a part of the game, up and down so they made a run in the third quarter and we turned the ball over, but we held on and we said we got to keep it up and play hard." –Duarte on the near-comeback
Stat of the Night
Phoenix scored 66 points in the paint — the most by a Pacers opponent this season.
- The Suns have won six consecutive games and nine of their last 10.
- Chris Duarte has finished in double figures in four straight games.
- The Pacers cap their four-game Western Conference road trip with a bout against the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night.
The Pacers travel to New Orleans to take on Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans on Monday, Jan. 24 at 8:00 PM ET.
After a five-game Western Conference road trip, the Pacers return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse to host Gordon Hayward and the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »