In what was legally classified as a professional game sanctioned by the National Basketball Association, the Indiana Pacers doubled up the Brooklyn Nets through most of the first half and cruised to a blowout victory, with Brooklyn putting up the resistance of a golf ball pushing back Niagara Falls.
It happened just that fast. The Pacers took advantage of Brooklyn’s oft-slow weak-side defense in pick-and-rolls to get some early shots at the rim, the Nets struggled to get into offensive sets and could not score in isolation, and before you could blink, the Pacers built a double-digit first-quarter lead they never relinquished, doubling up the Nets for the majority of the first half.
With the win, the Pacers clinched a playoff spot, and bumped the Chicago Bulls from the postseason.
It got bad fast and weird soon after. Early in the second quarter, 6’8″ guard-forward Bojan Bogdanovic was relegated to the center spot, and the Pacers continued to pound the paint, hitting Myles Turner and Ian Mahinmi for easy layups over overmatched Nets wing defenders. Not to be undermatched, the Nets replaced Bogdanovic with 6’7″ guard Sean Kilpatrick, and the Pacers points kept flowing; Indiana put up 32 mostly uncontested points in the paint in the game-deciding first half.
The Nets were forced into that idiosyncratic lineup switch. Thomas Robinson left the game in the second quarter with a sore left knee, leaving the Nets with rookie Chris McCullough and 10-day contract recipient Henry Sims as their only healthy big men. 9McCullough sat the entire second half; kudos to interim head coach Tony Brown for prioritizing the long-term health of his player when his own future with the team is in doubt.)
Once the lead got to 42 points — yes, the Pacers led 85-43 and 88-46 — the Pacers finally relented, playing at half-speed, presumably to stay fresh for their playoff run.
Back in late February, I wrote that the Nets, in all their general malaise, were inevitable. Since then little has changed, except that the Nets played long swaths of a game without a player over 6’8″.
With the loss, the Nets have now lost eight straight games by double digits. They have not held a second-half lead for a single second in any of those eight games. They are resting their two best players for the remainder of the season and have routinely rested other rotation players as the season closes. The team seems destined to lose 60 games for the first time since the 12-70 year and their fifth time in NBA franchise history; the Nets have never won 60 games in a season.
Long live the Swamp Dragons.