Why the Pacers only scored 8 points in the 3rd quarter of Game 1

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Doug McDermott #20 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during Game One of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Doug McDermott #20 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Boston Celtics during Game One of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Reggie Miller scored 8 points in under 9 seconds. The Indiana Pacers scored 8 points in a full 12 minute quarter on Sunday. Why?

The Indiana Pacers scored 108 points per game this season. Some quick math tells me that is 27 points per quarter, a healthy amount. The Pacers won multiple games this season in which they only scored a teen-something amount of points in an individual quarter.

Bad quarters are survivable.

Atrocious quarters are not.

Combine the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarters of the Pacers Game 1 loss to Boston, and the Pacers have a 66-58 lead on the scoreboard. Throw in the 3rd quarter, and Indiana lost by double digits. That’s how bad the 3rd quarter was, fueled (or, in this case, not fueled) by a harrowing 8 point quarter in which the Pacers only made 2 shots.

This cannot happen in the postseason. It shouldn’t happen ever, but especially not on the biggest stage. No team should come out and make 2 shots in an entire quarter. Period. Why am I still elaborating on this? I myself have hit two shots in a basketball quarter and I stopped playing at age 16. I would score 0 against the Celtics, but you get the idea.

There was a rush to assign blame. This has to be someone’s fault. There is a reason this putrid stretch happened, and we have to know what it is so that it can never happen again. Let’s go to the film, shall we?

Perhaps we should have seen a dud of a quarter coming. The first two possessions were turnovers, only bailed out of conceding points by a Myles Turner chase-down block and  Jayson Tatum miss. It took the Pacers over 100 seconds to even release a shot.

Finally, they get one up, on this possession:

That’s not the worst look ever considering it was at the end of the shot clock — a testament to the Celtics defense. Thankfully, Myles Turner tipped it out and kept the ball in the Pacers hands for another 14. They used the shot clock reset to get this look:

Baynes dropped and let DC have that shot. It’s not a bad shot, it was wide open and DC has hit those all season. There’s a reason Baynes let him half it though, the math says that’s a bad shot. It’s open so I’m mostly okay with it. Either way, the Indiana Pacers had a 40-second possession turn into 2 misses. No matter. Teams miss two shots in a row all the time. No need to panic.

The Indiana Pacers would go on to get steals the next two possessions. The first one set up this three-point jumper:

Why Darren Collison picked up his dribble in a 3-on-2 situation I will never know, but he is usually a sound decision maker so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. The result was a wide open 3 for a great shooter in Turner, so no complaints. It just didn’t fall. That’s two good looks that haven’t fallen so far. Keep tally. Or don’t because I’m about to for you.

Here is the ensuing shot after the second steal, this time from DC:

That’s a great look in transition that just rimmed out (get used to those words). That’s 3 good looks in a row that just haven’t gone down, which is just as frustrating for you and I the viewer as it is for the team. Regardless, the team still led by 5, so no need to mope.

After Horford hit a shot inside on the other end, the Pacers came back down looking to avenge their 3 open misses in a row. They run some nice floppy action to get Wes Matthews a great look, but I’m sure you know the trend by now:

The announcer nailed it. The Pacers “seem a little bit deflated”. After fighting like hell to have a lead at halftime, to watch four straight good looks not fall is incredibly frustrating. The next one must fall. It’s the gambler’s fallacy.

Then a game-altering play occurred as Thad Young committed his fourth foul, which forced Nate McMillan to pull him for Domantas Sabonis about 5 minutes earlier than he normally does. That doesn’t really throw off any sets or anything, but the rhythm of the team alters ever so slightly. That matters, and it was evident.

With Sabonis in, though, the Pacers do the logical thing and have him immediately spearhead one of his textbook PnRs. Darren Collison gets a GREAT look from 15 feet.

It rimmed out:

Of course, it did. That’s 5 straight great looks. However, this possession could have ended with a better shot. Why is Myles Turner standing right under the basket, essentially nullifying any chance that the roll man can be open? The timing of Turner rotating to the corner was off, and the possession suffered. There is a display of your off-beat rhythm AND your misfortunate on rim-outs.

Still, a tie game! There are plenty of chances to make this right. Perhaps a creative offensive set can create the shot the Pacers need to get on the board.

And creative the next set was. Sabonis faked a PnR with Wesley Matthews, and Matthews quickly fired the ball to Turner at the elbow. Domas shifts over to run a 4-5 PnR with Turner, and Myles gets a great look at an open jumper from the top of the key.

It, you guessed correctly, rimmed out:

The optimism was draining from the Pacers at this point. 6 straight good looks not falling overlapping with your lead disappearing dominates your mental psyche. It’s just as hard to overcome as a matchup disadvantage or talent discrepancy.

On the other end, Indiana forced a Kyrie Irving miss… only to watch Baynes put in a putback. The most deflating defensive play. You get a stop — the literal only objective of defense, and still concede points. Almost all the air was out of the tires for the Pacers.

Finally, though, the Pacers get some points as Myles Turner attacked the basket and drew a foul. He only hit one of the two free throws (another theme to keep an eye on), but it was a point. Salvation at last. And it came from an obvious source — attacking the basket. The good looks they had created so far were all jumpers — good shots, but not as good as getting to the rim. Myles said “screw it” and attacked. He was rewarded with points. That should have resonated with Indy more than it did.

Next possession, after forcing a miss, the Indiana Pacers miraculously still had a chance to tie the game. Collison tried to drive to the basket but was thwarted by 2 Celtic defenders. That was Boston’s goal – stop the drives.

On a similar action to the Turner jumper from two possessions before, Sabonis set a pindown screen at the elbow for DC while he was resetting after his drive. The Pacers point guard whipped around and launched an open jumper over the dropping big, but he left it short, another clunked open look:

A meeting of the minds was happening. Brad Stevens is willing to concede these shots for a reason. He doesn’t want Baynes to scoot up any higher and give up space at the rim. But Nate McMillan is fine with all the open shots. Math was winning, and the numbers game had the Pacers frustrated.

Collison committed a lazy foul in semi-transition immediately after this miss, perhaps as a result of his annoyance with the missed shots. Why he did doesn’t matter. It was his fourth foul, and he was pulled from the game for Cory Joseph.

Perhaps the ball of energy that is the Pacers backup point guard could spark a run, and a few makes, for Indiana. Something had to work eventually, right?

With Joseph at the helm, the Pacers flow into a DHO from the left elbow (another thing to remember — maybe start writing stuff down?) for Bogdanovic, but nothing was there so the Pacers go mismatch hunting. Jaylen Brown is on Sabonis, perfect!

But the Pacers take too long getting the Lithuanian the ball, and the lack of spacing between Turner and Sabonis allows the Celtics to switch and recover. That makes Sabonis’ shot more difficult and gives Boston’s D some time.

The Celtics, namely Al Horford, come to help at the perfect moment, preventing the Sabonis post up from being close to effective. This is the first bad shot of the quarter:

Kyrie Irving hit free throws on the next Celtics possession, extending the Celtics lead to 7 while the Pacers had scored just 1 point in the entire quarter so far. They had generated open looks, but many of them were jumpers, and a few felt like they were settled for. The team needed a spark, and Mr. energy was going to try to get it for them.

Cory Joseph burst to the rim and got fouled. He hit both free throws, which marked the first trip down the floor in the third quarter where the Indiana Pacers scored more than 1 point.

The clock read 5:27.

Perhaps some momentum could be drawn from the 2-point trip. The lead was now 5 and it was back to anyone’s game. But instead of momentum, the Pacers accumulated irk.

The ensuing two Pacer possessions were both turnovers — a rushed Wesley Matthews post up and a botched DHO between Sabonis and Bogdanovic. The team was going through the motions, not actively trying to get to the rim or even create the open jumpers they had created early in the quarter. It was time for a lineup change.

Tyreke Evans checked in with Irving at the free throw line. There was 4:16 to go in the quarter, and the Pacers were down 9, a 16 point swing from where they started the frame. They were at nearly 8 minutes of basketball without a made shot. Perhaps Evans’ penchant for getting to the rim could be a Kickstarter.

On Tyreke’s first possession in, the Pacers ran a wide pindown for Wes Matthews and generated a wide-open three from one of Matthews favorite spots. It was a great look. The Pacers try to hunt the best open shot instead of the first open sho most of the time, but this look from the slot was both.

Shocker, but it didn’t fall in this instance:

I watched this game at a bar full of Pacers fans. Just a few real-life minutes prior to this moment, Tiger Woods won the Masters. Many bar patrons were still amped and riding the high of that memorable sports moment. After that Matthews miss, the bar went to somber. Nothing was working. Nothing was going right.

And we were just observers with booze. Imagine being a player, and watching you and your teammates put together tons of decent possessions and just… miss. It had to be demoralizing for the Indiana Pacers.

The emotions were affecting their play. Lazy passes. Nobody attacking the rim. Stagnant ball movement. It all was tied together, a snowball effect on an endless hill.

Marcus Morris hit a 3 on the other end to give Boston their first double-digit lead. It had been 8 minutes without a made shot at that point. The crowd at the TD garden was roaring. The Indiana Pacers needed points.

With mostly their bench unit in, the Pacers went to a staple of their second unit, the Sabonis-Evans PnR. Sabonis changed the angle of his screen at the last second and created a great lane to the rim for Evans, who went right at Al Horford on his way to the rim.

But Evans’ is contact-averse, and Horford defended him perfectly. The strong-side help leaned in to influence the shot, too. Evans missed the layup, and missed everything, only getting the crowd more into it:

Unbelievable. Thankfully, the Pacers retained possession, and they finally made a shot! Well, they sorta made a shot. That’s what it will be remembered as, but…

It didn’t actually go in. It was almost blocked by Horford, who had a magnificent defensive quarter. Sure, it’s two points for the blue and gold. But it was close enough to a block to keep the fans engaged. And mentally, for Indiana, it can’t have been great to see the first made shot be… not actually a made shot. Perhaps that is a reach, but it didn’t really feel like an awe-inspiring bucket to me, especially because it took over 9.5 minutes to get.

I thought this point in time would be a good one to reflect on why the Indiana Pacers only scored 8 points in this quarter. But let me tell you about some things that happened after that made shot first.

  • Tyreke Evans missed an open 3 out of a left elbow DHO
  • Sabonis split a pair of free throws, which only cut the lead to 9
  • Evans missed another layup, one that essentially rimmed out, and Sabonis couldn’t quite tap it back in

Missed layups, predictable actions, and missed free throws. A battle of poor execution, poor set calls, and bad luck all came together for the perfect storm.

Then, it happened. With the lead still at 9, Doug McDermott arrived to make a shot and end the suffering. He got the rim (hey look, putting pressure on the basket works!) and hit a layup. Plus the harm. And-1:

Almost poetically, it came after a left elbow DHO, and even that action came after an initial attempt at it failed! Regardless, the result was finally good. He hit the free throw (!) and the lead was 6. Life.

McDermott would go on to miss 2 more threes in the final minute of the quarter, one of which came from a left elbow DHO. That particular shot was tipped, as Boston was ready for the action. The other was a close miss, which was a perfect summation of the quarter.

Any high school coach will tell you the same thing – just keep it within 10 going into the 4th quarter. The Indiana Pacers had the lead at 8 going into their final offensive possession. A good pick and roll followed by some good ball movement led to an open Sabonis attempt in the lane, but he missed it. Terry Rozier got the ball in transition, ran down the floor, and hit a buzzer-beating 3 to extend the lead to 11.

Fitting, really.

The quarter ended 26-8 in favor of Boston, about as bad as a 12-minute span can go for one team. So, why did the Pacers only score 8 points?

An avalanche of compounding problems. They came out of the halftime break executing the gameplan, generating open looks only to see them rim out. Then fouls made them shake up the rotation and the game plan, and that altered the rhythm of the players. Suddenly, the good looks turned into worse ones. Now, nothing is going in and the whole team is flustered.

The Sabonis-Turner pairing was forced to play more together out of foul-trouble necessity. It cramped spacing and made it hard for the Pacers to attack the basket. They had to take mid-range jumpers and 3s. A team in their own heads was now losing the math battle.

Once the free throws started to miss, and great shots started to rim out, the Pacers offense shut down. It resorted to similar, simple actions to try and end a slump instead of generating the best shot. It’s understandable. We are humans. Most of us try to avoid failure and embarrassment.

Next. How much blame does Nate McMillan deserve for the Indiana Pacers game 1 performance?. dark

The Indiana Pacers lost that mental fight, and it affected their on-court performance. They spiraled down from missing great shots to creating good ones to forcing bad ones. They got out of the slump and matched the Celtics blow for blow in the 4th, but it was too late.

This level of bad won’t repeat itself. It was improbably bad luck to see that many shots rim out. But the Indiana Pacers learned a thing or two from this quarter — keep your composure and stick to the plan. Otherwise, you’ll score at a historically poor level.