INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The Indiana Pacers never held a lead against the Milwaukee Bucks during their 130-110 loss and ultimately trailed by as many as 40 points at one point. It wasn't the kind of outing they would have liked to have on a nationally televised contest.
The flow of the game was in the Bucks' favor early on as the Pacers never held a lead at any point. Indiana found themselves trailing 29-21 through one quarter. Milwaukee proceeded to further their advantage as they scored a game-high 39 points in the second quarter.
The Bucks showed no signs of slowing down after halftime. Milwaukee added another 38 points and had established a 34-point lead entering the final frame. At this point, the outcome was decided with the Pacers not playing most of their starters at all over the final 12 minutes.
Here are three things to like and dislike from Wednesday's loss:
LIKE: Domantas Sabonis' Big Performance
The clear bright spot for the Pacers in this blowout loss was how Domantas Sabonis managed to post 33 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists. He managed to set a new career-high in scoring.
There were some stretches when Sabonis was coming up empty inside the paint and he actually started off 2-of-7 (28.6%) from the field. That didn't deter him from attacking and he managed to finish the open half with 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists on 7-of-14 (50.0%) from the field and 2-of-3 (66.7%) from the perimeter.
While the Pacers were getting overwhelmed by the Bucks' hot shooting performance, Sabonis continued to do what he could to keep Indiana in it after halftime. He produced 15 points, five rebounds, and two assists in the third quarter while going 7-of-11 (63.6%) on his field goal attempts.
Sabonis finished with an impressive all-around outing despite not even playing for any part of the fourth quarter. It was intriguing to see what he is capable of achieving against a top team, especially since he struggled against the Bucks in 2019-20.
DISLIKE: Bucks' Defensive Strategy Worked
The other side of the situation to take into consideration is how the Bucks clearly were satisfied with staying home on shooters and letting Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon try to beat them.
Even on a night when Sabonis set a new career-high in scoring, it wasn't close to being enough to combat the Bucks' offensive output. Indiana struggled from beyond the arc and didn't have nearly the firepower from deep to be able to keep up in the grand scheme of things.
Meanwhile, Brogdon had a tough time getting to the rim and his jumper was not falling. He finished with just 12 points and went 5-of-17 (29.4%) from the field and 2-of-6 (33.3%) from beyond the arc. From the lone borderline All-Star guard in the lineup, that's a debilitating outcome.
It takes a lot of dynamic production from the perimeter and in the playmaking department to defeat a team like the Bucks. Simply put, the Pacers do not have enough firepower right now. Not having Caris LeVert and TJ Warren healthy and playing hurts.
LIKE: Complementary Wings Contributed
The Pacers didn't end up getting much from their starting backcourt and Myles Turner was a complete afterthought in the offense. It was at least intriguing to see both Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott manage to carve out solid offensive outings.
Aside from Sabonis, Holiday was just about the only player who had it going from the perimeter in this game. He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds, and two steals while going 5-of-8 (62.5%) from the field and 3-of-5 (60.0%) from beyond the arc.
The three-ball wasn't falling for McDermott but he at least managed to continue to apply pressure to the opposition as a finisher. He scored 13 points and finished 6-of-12 (50.0%) from the field despite converting on just 1-of-5 (20.0%) attempts from deep.
Think about when Caris LeVert and TJ Warren return to game action eventually. Having effective complements on the wing like McDermott and Holiday that can impact the game in multiple ways off the ball will go a long way with more playmakers around them.
DISLIKE: No Answer For Giannis Antetokounmpo
One of the limitations the Pacers have with a frontcourt pairing of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner is matching up with spread lineups. That's particularly the case against the NBA's top teams with a small ball four that can break defenders down off the dribble.
The foundation of the issue is Sabonis' inability to be a factor defending out in space and not being a rim protection presence. He's often caught in no man's land when defending away from the ball while being unable to stay in front of perimeter players.
Expecting anybody to be able to handle Antetokounmpo individually out in space is not going to work. On top that, by having Turner directly matchup against Antetokounmpo, the Pacers neutralize his elite ability to rotate as a rim protector and crowd the finishes.
The Bucks having a stretch-five in Brook Lopez to completely neutralize the ability for the opposition to send extra help to the ball. In fact, Antetokounmpo didn't have to play at all in the fourth quarter and still finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists.
LIKE: Fourth Quarter Performance
There was absolutely no chance of the Pacers coming back from the 34-point deficit they faced entering the fourth quarter. That didn't stop Indiana from trying to rally back and they actually put together an admirable effort.
The Pacers played hard and actually managed to score 38 points within the frame -- almost matching the Bucks' game-high 39 points from the second quarter. Again, it was a classic case of too little, too late.
None of this matters in the grand scheme of things, but it does at least help to get the starters some rest on the second night of a back-to-back. If the loss was going to be a loss anyways, at least they didn't waste wear-and-tear in the fourth quarter.
DISLIKE: Perimeter Shooting Disadvantage
The Pacers gave up more made three-pointers (21) in this game than they have allowed in any other matchup in their history. Facing a disadvantage of 30 points in this one category is simply too much to ask to overcome.
Milwaukee had some incredible results from their complementary shooters. Donte DiVincenzo, Bobby Portis, and Bryn Forbes all finished with four made three-pointers for the Bucks. Overall, there four players who had at least three makes from deep.
Part of the issue is that Indiana's defensive strategy favors protecting the paint and sometimes applying extra ball pressure instead of staying home on shooters. To put it into perspective, no team is giving up more points per possession than the Pacers against spot-up plays.
It's very difficult to envision this being a viable strategy against teams with spread lineups, particularly teams with fours like Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Indiana may need to head back to the drawing board.