Very little clicked tonight for the Indiana Pacers, who battled Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns as the Minnesota Timberwolves broke Indiana’s five-game winning streak. The Pacers got nights from Myles Turner and Bennedict Mathurin but struggled in the “total team effort” portion of the game.
That was a bit of an issue since Minnesota’s five starters put up such a complete performance, all five hit double digits and four shot 70% or better. The Pacers, who continued to flirt with slow starts, quickly found themselves down 8-0, a deficit they would end up chasing the rest of the night.
The deficit in the first quarter swelled to 17, but even when the starting side couldn’t put much together, Mathurin stepped in, scoring seven points in the last two minutes and helping reduce the deficit to eight in the second quarter.
Mathurin continued to play well early in the second quarter, hitting some absurd shots as the Pacers hit back.
His follow-up shot, bouncing against Towns and Gobert, cut the lead to three, but it would be as close as Indiana could get before the Timberwolves stretched the lead back to 10.
From there, Indiana looked to Turner, hitting back-to-back threes to reduce the lead to six. The Pacers took advantage of a stretch where Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield both had some rare positives when they shot the ball tonight and would eventually go 46-45 ahead with 2:24 remaining in the quarter.
Twenty-one seconds later, Minnesota reclaimed the lead, which didn’t feel too bad until consecutive turnovers in the final 30 seconds gave Wolves four free points and sent them five into halftime. That gap would more or less remain through game three, but not without a Herculean effort from Turner, who scored 15 points on 6-9 shooting with three made threes, including a poster jam against Jaden McDaniels.
Any semblance of momentum Indiana was trying to squeeze out of that dunk quickly faded as Towns scored the next seven for Minnesota and quickly extended the lead back to nine. Mathurin continued to march to the line and shot four in the quarter to bring his in-game total to nine, but another terrible end to the quarter put Minnesota in fourth place by a 10-point lead.
Indiana, led by Oshae Brissett to open the fourth game, had some breathing room but at no point was there a chance to stop the Timberwolves defensively, especially as the Pacers got no doubt from officials and lost their first game since March 26 October in double digits.
The stats for Minnesota are staggering. They shot 60% as a team, the highest season allowed so far this season, including 74 points in the suit. Those simple looks throughout the game gave them just enough pop from beyond the arc to keep Indiana at bay.
On the other side of the floor, Indiana didn’t fare much better, posting a season low of 38.5%. McDaniels effectively neutralized Haliburton’s goal-scoring ability and held him to 10 points on a 4-15 shooting, although Haliburton found his success mostly in the fourth game against Austin Rivers. While he provided 14 assists, it was a night’s struggle for the young guard.
That outside defense was carried inwards, and Gobert received all the respect that comes with being Defensive Player of the Year. He didn’t block shots but kept Indiana in the paint less than 50%. The duo of him and Towns paid off tonight, leading to seven of Minnesota’s eight offensive rebounds and a staggering 19 second-chance points.
With all of those factors headed toward Minnesota, the Pacers had a lot of ground to gain. Turner helped a lot, scoring 31 points on 7-9 shooting from a three-point range, including a team-high with seven rebounds and four steals. The shot counts gave the Pacers eight extra marks, but with twice as many tries, the percentages weren’t great.
Steals played a key role, however, as Indiana as a team racked up 16 steals, forced 23 total turnovers, and outscored Minnesota 32-14 points after turnovers. Indiana played a relatively clean game by their standards but still failed to finish easy games, giving the Wolves a 22-14 advantage in fast break points.
From the bench, Mathurin went ahead with 21 points, hitting both of his three-pointers in the first quarter and spending the rest of the night getting to the line. He fired 12 shots at the free throw line tonight and missed three. The Pacers had just 16 tries total, zero from the starting lineup.
That resulted in just 28 total points from the starting unit outside of Turner. Hield had 13 but only 3-11 from deep and was immediately in trouble if he tried to do anything other than catch and shoot. Aaron Nesmith hit an early three, but he and Jalen Smith were then made complete non-factors, going 1-14 together for two points, 0-7 of three.
Smith in particular highlighted a real problem for the Pacers defense that night, coming into play quite often when Goga Bitadze was in the game and getting minutes for Isaiah Jackson, who was out. Bitadze played very well overall, blocking four shots (well, probably more) but when his rim guard was successful, the assist and follow-through to the rally were unsuccessful, giving Gobert and the Timberwolves a free hand at a second chance.
Beyond that, there wasn’t much for Indiana to do, chasing a slow start they couldn’t climb out of. As such, the Pacers suffered their first loss in two weeks, falling to 10-7 with one game remaining at their home stand. That will play the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, the traditional pick after Thanksgiving at 8 p.m. after the downtown Christmas tree is lit.
A second win against the Nets on Friday would be nice, not only to end a winning home streak, but also to avoid what could quickly become an ugly stretch for the Pacers just days before a brutal seven-game start 10-day trip to the West Coast, which will include another matchup against this Minnesota team.