The Bucks gave the Pacers a take a look at how arduous it may be for Indiana

1:57 AM ET

Malika AndrewsESPN

MILWAUKEE — Typical knowledge means that the Indiana Pacers ought to have collapsed by now.

They misplaced their franchise participant, Victor Oladipo, to a season-ending damage in late January. The star-less Pacers then suffered minor accidents to different key gamers, together with Domantas Sabonis and Tyreke Evans. Their protection has stayed one of many league’s greatest, thanks largely to heart Myles Turner, however their roster of comparatively nameless veterans is straightforward for outsiders to miss.

But the Pacers are protecting issues fascinating within the Japanese Convention, threatening to steal a top-four playoff seeding. The group has turned the web page from the Oladipo damage. They’ve grown uninterested in being requested who will step up.

“Each sport is vital proper now,” coach Nate McMillan mentioned earlier this week. “It is time to get severe. It has been time to get severe.”

The Indiana Pacers have been unable to play from forward in Milwaukee on Thursday night time, however they nonetheless are the third seed within the Japanese Convention, forward of the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Pictures

The Milwaukee Bucks, homeowners of the Japanese Convention’s high seed, soundly defeated the Pacers 117-98 on Thursday in what might be an indication of more durable instances to come back for Indiana. The street solely will get bumpier for Indiana because the Engine That May huffs and puffs towards the end line. Thursday night time’s sport in opposition to the Bucks kicked off a stretch throughout which the Pacers are slated to play 10 of their subsequent 11 video games on the street, together with 10 in opposition to playoff-bound groups.

The excellent news for Indiana is that they have already got taken their punishment from the Bucks; Milwaukee clinched the regular-season collection Three-1. However coming into play Thursday, the Pacers had the sixth-hardest energy of schedule remaining within the NBA (.545, in response to ESPN’s Basketball Playoff Index).

Indiana is a mean offensive group, rating 16th within the NBA general in effectivity and 19th since Oladipo went down. What it lacks in offensive pizzazz, Indy makes up for in consistency. No less than six Pacers have scored in double figures in 40 of their 65 video games. Darren Collison, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Younger, Wesley Matthews, Cory Joseph and Turner all put up double figures in opposition to the Bucks.

“One of many largest issues that has gotten us up to now is us enjoying as a collective unit and enjoying collectively,” Younger mentioned after the sport.

Indiana’s egalitarian offense is complemented by an elite protection. Even with out Oladipo, Indiana has been capable of hold on to the No. 2 defensive ranking behind solely Milwaukee, totally on the energy of its means to take the ball away (solely the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder and Phoenix Suns common extra steals per sport).

Even Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who has repeatedly mentioned he would not watch movie on different groups, mentioned he has taken word of the Pacers.

The Bucks, Raptors, Celtics and 76ers can every make a case for turning into the primary group not led by LeBron James to signify the East within the Finals since 2010.

The Pacers may lack the Q ranking of the opposite high groups within the East, however their effectiveness shouldn’t be ignored.

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“I’d say Indiana is without doubt one of the groups that I do attempt to watch,” Budenholzer mentioned. “That is the fourth time we have performed them. I feel [McMillan] does an exquisite job. I feel his gamers play so arduous and play with a physicality that’s inside the pointers. I feel it’s a nice instance for the remainder of the league. I’m so impressed by Nate [McMillan] and his group.”

It is simple to see the Pacers possess combat. Within the first quarter in opposition to the Bucks, the Pacers rallied from down eight to take a one-point lead. Within the second quarter, Indianapolis narrowed a 14-point hole to 4 by halftime. Indiana even had a one-point lead inside the first minute of the second half, irritating Giannis Antetokounmpo by the primary 30 minutes of the sport as Milwaukee’s MVP candidate had extra turnovers (4) than area targets (2-of-Eight) at that time.

However then Antetokounmpo was capable of choose aside Indiana’s defensive choices, commencing when he was issued a technical foul with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left within the third quarter for arguing with referee Nick Buchert over a Turner block that Antetokounmpo thought he was fouled on. Bogdanovic would miss the free throw that might have minimize Indiana’s deficit to 2, nonetheless, and the Bucks instantly went on a 13-Zero run that allowed them to tug away.

“An excessive amount of Antetokounmpo and an excessive amount of [Khris] Middleton,” McMillan mentioned after the sport.

Antetokounmpo completed with 29 factors, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. His six second-half dunks, all of them post-technical, eclipsed his earlier second-half document by one.

“That was my first time seeing him get mad like that,” Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe mentioned after the sport. “Particularly getting that tech. I by no means noticed that earlier than, however I prefer it.”

Now, the Pacers should journey on.

“We obtained away from what we have been doing,” Younger mentioned. “We did not play our kind of basketball. We have to get again into sync.”

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