Pacers end 2017 with a dud

The Pacers didn’t score a point until the 5:15 mark of the first quarter, on a hook shot from backup center Domantas Sabonis. By that point, the starters had missed all twelve shots attempted and turned it over four times, coach Nate McMillan had used two timeouts and inserted seldom-used veterans Damien Wilkins and Al Jefferson into the lineup.

The Pacers managed 13 points in the first quarter, their lowest scoring quarter of the season. And they didn’t get a point from a starter until there was 4:47 left in the first half. Nope, that’s not recipe for success – especially not against a playoff team like Minnesota.

Indiana’s 107-90 loss, their fourth in a row, can be summed up like this: They fell behind 17-0, trailed by as many 29 points, only got a technical foul shot out of Myles Turner, a career-high 20 points from Joe Young, and 37-year-old Damien Wilkins played the most minutes that he’s seen since 2013 (28).

“We’ve obviously lost a rhythm,” Nate McMillan said postgame. “We certainly look like we’ve lost a little confidence. We’ll take tomorrow off and mentally and physically try to get some rest, come back and stay together. We know we’re better than what we’ve shown really in the last week or so.”

The starters accounted for 32 points, 13 from Bojan Bogdanovic — all in the third period after a scoreless first half.

Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns had his way inside with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks to match his career high. Jimmy Butler, acquired in the offseason from Chicago, scored a game-high 26 points for the Timberwolves (23-14), who have now won six of their last seven games. Neither Towns nor Butler played when the Pacers torched the Timberwolves in Minnesota, 130-107, back on Oct. 24.

“We watched film the last two days of their win earlier in the year and it definitely wakes you up,” Butler said. “It was good to get back at them.”

For Turner, this game and his performance can serve as a learning moment. He failed to get going and struggled with his matchup against Towns. He missed all five of his shots and committed four fouls (plus one technical) and three turnovers in 19 minutes.

A positive: After the loss, Turner and Lance Stephenson, who was 2 of 7 from the field, went across the street to the practice facility to get shots up. Instead of hanging their heads, they wanted to get back in the gym.

Veteran Al Jefferson, who added eight points in 18 minutes off the bench, had this message for the 21-year-old: “I hate to be the one to tell you but you’re going to have a lot more games like this. You’re going to have a long career and there’s going to be nights like this. … You just can’t make it a habit.”

The lone bright spot was Joe Young. He popped off the bench in the first quarter and scored a career high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 25 minutes of work. He’s stayed ready, spending the night on the court at the practice facility and posting reminders to himself (and others) on Instagram.

Like this one: “When u look back at the people who doubted you, but you kept walking forward because God had your back!!”

Young on their second four-game slide this season: “It’s a long season and you have your ups and down, we’re just going through a rough time. We just got to get it back.”

The team will take New Year’s Day (Monday) off after a dismal week where they lost all four battles and dropped valuable spots in the standings. Currently they’re in eighth, a half game ahead of the New York Knicks.

“It’s good to maybe take a mental day, get away the gym, get away from the game for a day and have a good practice on Tuesday,” Jefferson said. “… We need some practice time.”

Obviously they miss their best player, Victor Oladipo, who is sidelined with a sore knee. He’s playing at an All-Star level, averaging a team-high 24.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game.

Long-term, it’s probably best for them to hold him out for at least another week. Fortunately, they’re scheduled to play just twice, Wednesday in Milwaukee and Saturday hosting Chicago.

“We got to figure it out, man,” Jefferson reiterated. “We can’t blame the coaches, we can’t blame the GM, we can’t blame the fans, we can’t blame nobody. We the ones out there. There’s just no effort at all. And that’s something you got to have.”

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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