Huge third quarter keys Pacers’ 142-130 victory over Bucks
INDIANAPOLIS – The Milwaukee Bucks lost for the fourth time in five games against the Indiana Pacers, concluding their regular season-series with a 142-130 defeat Wednesday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
“I think transition has been a big thing,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said of why the Pacers managed to take that many games against the Bucks. “Just haven’t played our best basketball. Haven’t played smart, I don’t feel like at times. They take advantage of every situation that they could in the half court and in transition.”
Box score:Pacers 142, Bucks 130
It was the fifth straight win for the Pacers (19-14) and second straight loss – and third in five games – for the Bucks (24-10). The Pacers’ 142 points were the most scored by a Bucks opponent this season. Toronto scored 130 on Nov. 1.
It is just the second time this season the Bucks have lost consecutive games (Nov. 9-11). The Bucks head to San Antonio to play the Spurs on Thursday night.
“You gotta shift our focus to San Antonio,” Milwaukee head coach Adrian Griffin said. “We gotta put a great game plan together as a staff. They gotta go out and execute. On the road in the NBA you gotta perform, you gotta bring it and I always say, nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Who cares if we lost two in a row? We can’t pout, we can’t hang our heads. And that’s not the DNA of our group. We have high character guys. They’re going to respond greatly.”
The game turned in the third quarter when the Pacers outscored the Bucks 47-29, highlighted by a quarter-opening 21-6 run that saw the Pacers turn on the gas and beat the Bucks down the floor for baskets. Milwaukee had a 68-66 lead at halftime, and had otherwise done a decent job keeping Indiana from dominating in the hustle areas.
“They came out of halftime and played extremely hard, set the tone, moved the ball, made some shots,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said of the third quarter. “We did not take care of the ball also. We have to do a better job coming out of halftime, setting the tone and attacking first. But we wasn’t able to do tonight and that’s why they scored 47 points.”
The Pacers continued to show quick double-teams to Antetokounmpo, but the Bucks couldn’t take advantage in the half court often enough.
Indiana led by 18 with 8 minutes 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter and though Milwaukee was able to cut it to 128-118 with 3:59 remaining, Tyrese Haliburton hit back-to-back buckets to effectively end the threat of a full comeback.
Haliburton finished with 31 points and 12 assists. He was one of seven Pacers in double figures.
The Oshkosh native punctuated the win with a behind-the-back pass that led to a Myles Turner three-pointer and 139-122 lead with 1:56 left. Haliburton then signaled for timeout as Griffin did, signifying the Bucks pulling their starters.
Antetokounmpo had another solid overall performance against the Pacers with 26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Damian Lillard had 23 points, Middleton 19 and Brook Lopez 16. Malik Beasley scored eight points. He hit his first 2 three-pointers but was once again limited by foul trouble while guarding Haliburton.
Damian Lillard still can’t find way vs. Pacers
If Antetokounmpo has had his way over the Pacers since 2020, Lillard has been lost in trying to find his.
In his four games against Indiana this season, the Bucks point guard shot just 32% overall (22-for-68) and 26% from behind the three-point line (9-for-34) in averaging 20.2 points per game to go with 5.8 assists.
On Wednesday he was just 6-for-18, including 2-for-8 from behind the three-point line. He also made nine free throws to score 23 points.
“I had some opportunities that I liked I just didn’t make ‘em,” Lillard said. “I wouldn’t say it was a struggle because of them. Like I said I had opportunities that I liked it just didn’t go in. That’s part of it.”
But even when Lillard was in Portland (albeit in far fewer games), the Pacers seemed to give Lillard some issues. In five games against Indiana from 2020-22, Lillard shot just 33.8% overall and 30.2% from behind the three-point line while averaging 18.4 points per game.
“You’re talking about guys that are generational-type player that are so good that have helped redefine the game, that it’s going to take an amazing effort to try to contain them at all,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said before the game.
“I mean we did better on Giannis last game (on Jan. 1) and he still had 30 points. It’s like trying to keep him under 50. It’s ridiculous how good he is. Lillard presents a different kind of problem. Playing players like this and a team like this you’ve got to be willing to step in and be there and take charges and do stuff that a lot of players really don’t love doing.”
Khris Middleton plays through wrist injury for Bucks
Middleton began Wednesday with two injury designations, right knee injury management and a left wrist sprain. The wrist sprain was a new injury, as Middleton has taken several falls over the last week. He had surgery to repair a torn scapholunate ligament in his left wrist in the summer of 2022, which he suffered bracing himself on a fall during that season but played through until a knee injury in the playoffs ended his season. The rehabilitation from the wrist surgery caused him to miss the first 20 games of last season.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Just a little sore but I’ll be alright.”
He added he didn’t have any long-term concern over the aggravation.
Middleton didn’t look any worse for wear Wednesday as he led the team with 13 points in the first half on 5 of 9 shooting, including 2-for-3 from behind the three-point line. He also had four assists and four rebounds in the opening half.
Unfortunately for Milwaukee he didn’t score again until the fourth quarter when the game was well out of hand. Middleton finished 7-for-13 from the floor for 19 points with seven assists and six rebounds.
Overall Middleton has been healthy this season, though he played his first 17 games under a minutes restriction. In the 11 games since being cleared to play 30 minutes from Dec. 7-Jan. 1, Middleton averaged 18.5 points per game on 52.3% shooting overall, 40.4% shooting from behind the three-point line and 90.9% from the free throw line.
He also averaged 5.8 assists and 5.0 assists.
Middleton missed one game with Achilles tendinitis but otherwise had only been held out of one game of back-to-backs. Milwaukee heads to San Antonio to take on the Western Conference’s worst team in the Spurs on Thursday night. The Bucks are 4-1 in games without Middleton.
Did you notice?
On two occasions Damian Lillard thought he was going to the free throw line, only to be exasperated with the officials said the foul occurred on the floor. In the first quarter Lillard thought he had an and-one situation by drawing a foul on Bruce Brown on a midrange shot. Then in the third quarter, Lillard drew contact on Brown as he rose up for a three-point attempt around a screen by Antetokounmpo. Lillard was similarly frustrated by the decision.
He ultimately went 9-for-10 from the free throw line, but three of those attempts were off technical foul calls.
It’s been a frequent occurrence for the point guard, particularly in the last few weeks. He averaged 8.5 free throw attempts per game through Dec. 13 and 7.5 per game since.
Is Bucks-Pacers a rivalry?Oshkosh native Tyrese Haliburton says not yet
Two more technical fouls issued in Bucks-Pacers rivalry
It wouldn’t be a Bucks-Pacers games if tempers didn’t flare, but it took until the fourth quarter for two players to get technical fouls. Milwaukee rookie Andre Jackson Jr. and Indiana big man Isaiah Jackson bumped each another and jawed back and forth following a foul on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The pair had to be separated, and ultimately Indiana’s Obi Toppin was assessed a technical foul, as was Jackson.
In the five regular season games, 14 technical fouls were issued on players and three were given to Griffin, who drew one in the third quarter.
1 Shots by Giannis Antetokounmpo and total free throw attempts by the Bucks in the first quarter. Indiana led 33-31 after the opening 12 minutes.Antetokounmpo: “We have to get better, everybody. It starts from me. I have to be better. I have to be more aggressive. I have to be way more aggressive. Like, the double team cannot take me away from the game. I tried to facilitate as much as I could but I have to be more aggressive. Guys have to play better. We have to execute better. We have to move the ball side-to-side. We cannot do it on our own. Coach has gotta coach harder. We have to be better. This game proves to everybody. I don’t think anybody from this locker room leaving here tonight doesn’t believe that we have to get better. So, that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing.”
3 Technical fouls called on Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin in two games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. He got one in the third quarter on Wednesday and was ejected after getting called for two on Nov. 9.
5-12 First-half offensive rebounds and second-chance points by the Bucks, which helped fuel a 68-66 lead at the break. Milwaukee also scored seven points off five Indiana turnovers. Unfortunately for the Bucks, they only added two more second-chance points on four more offensive rebounds in the following three quarters.
19-3 Bucks record when ahead or tied at half. Their first loss in such a situation was Nov. 30 in overtime at Chicago (ahead 55-49) and second loss was on Monday to the Pacers (ahead 62-56). Milwaukee led 68-66 at the break on Wednesday.
47 Points by the Pacers in the decisive third quarter. It was the most points by a Bucks opponent in the quarter all season, topping the 43 Detroit scored Nov. 8. Indiana shot an incredible 73.9% (17-for-23) in the quarter, including 4 of 8 three-pointers and 9 of 10 free throws. The Pacers also scored four points off four Bucks turnovers.
Bucks injury report
- Middleton, questionable (right knee injury management and left wrist sprain)
- Pat Connaughton, questionable (non-COVID illness).Connaughton warmed up and was good to go.
- Jae Crowder, out (left adductor surgery) Crowder is approaching the eight-week mark from his Nov. 14 surgery to repair a torn adductor muscle. His activity has gradually ramped up since.
- AJ Green, out (nasal fracture)Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin said Green broke his nose during practice Dec. 31. A procedure was considered as he did not play against Indiana on Monday, but he will rejoin the team for the Spurs game on Thursday. Green is familiar with the injury, though. He broke his nose last season while practicing with the Wisconsin Herd on Oct. 28 and had surgery on Nov. 1. Green returned to action on Nov. 16.
What happened between the Bucks and Pacers?
It has been an interesting season series. First, Antetokounmpo scored 54 points in Indiana on Nov. 9, but the Bucks had a double-digit lead slip away in a loss. Then the Pacers knocked the Bucks out of the In-Season Tournament with a victory in the semifinals in Las Vegas on Dec. 7.
On Dec. 13, Antetokounmpo set a franchise record with 64 points, but it led to several heated postgame conversations between players and staff from both teams. The Bucks did not appreciate Pacers players leaving the court without shaking hands, and a miscommunication over the location of the game ball was also part of the scene.
In the last game between the teams Monday, the Pacers overcame two 15-point deficits to give Oshkosh native Tyrese Haliburton his first victory as a professional in his home state.
First appeared on www.jsonline.com