Indiana Pacers: Late-game struggles magnify the necessity of TJ Warren’s return

Indiana Pacers, TJ Warren - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, TJ Warren - Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The bulk of the Indiana Pacers’ losses this season are games where the tides could have easily tilted to their favor. In reality, their poor performance in late-game situations has sunk them in the standings, with the Blue and Gold firmly in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with a scant 9-15 record after another close loss to the Atlanta Hawks at home.

A controversial no-call on a potential game-winning layup by Chris Duarte cemented the loss for the Pacers, but on a bird’s eye view, that the team has been reliant on whistles in the waning moments of games is very telling of what they currently lack—someone who can get them out of funks and carry the scoring load in late-game situations.

Indiana has one scoring adept on their roster who can easily assume that mantle in TJ Warren. The forward is still sidelined with a foot injury from last season, but his eventual return—which should be sooner than later—will be crucial as the Pacers attempt to turn their clutch misfortunes into gritty wins and mount a better record for their playoff bid.

TJ Warren’s return could be the key to mitigating the Indiana Pacers’ poor late-game performance this season

Following their 114-111 loss to Atlanta, the Indiana Pacers are now 1-8 in games decided by four points or less, which is the prime catalyst for their poor record so far. The raw numbers show that the Blue and Gold has outperformed their record, with their Pythagorean wins (expected record based on points scored and allowed) suggesting that the team is performing like a 13-11 squad. Their +1.0 net rating, tied for 12th in the association, makes them the lone team to not have double digit wins among all 17 squads with a positive plus/minus.

More specifically, the Pacers have the most losses in the clutch this season, with a 3-12 record overall. Their 12 losses are four more than the second-next teams (San Antonio and New Orleans are tied with eight). Indiana is also the third-worst scoring team in the fourth quarter, a stark contrast to their third-best scoring output in first quarters.

This is where TJ Warren becomes all the more important. Arguably the Pacers’ best isolation scorer on the roster, the forward provides the team with an uber-efficient scoring option who can be the focal point of the offense in crunch time and carry them in bailout situations. Better yet, he’s a legitimate three-level scorer who isn’t enamored by the three-ball, a recurring problem for Indiana in late games this season.

With Warren on deck and forefront in their scoring attack in the clutch, the Pacers’ other weapons like Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Caris LeVert should become more potent with a lessened burden to carry the scoring load, diversifying the offense, and giving coach Rick Carlisle more variance to augment his patented in-game adjustments. This season, his brilliance as an impromptu tactician has not been felt as much, with the Pacers often settling for simple pick-and-rolls and drive-and-kicks to challenge the defense in the closing minutes.

The Indiana Pacers’ roster is not particularly built for tense situations in late games, but the looming return of TJ Warren, their highly prized scorer, should make them a much more viable team in the clutch while ensuring that the team can maximize their supposed unpredictability with their assortment of scorers.

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