MILWAUKEE — It is hard for a team to fail to score 90 points when it has 53 at halftime, but the Milwaukee Bucks nearly accomplished that feat Friday.
After playing the second quarter at their pace, the Bucks allowed the Indiana Pacers to turn the second half into a defensive struggle. The end result was Milwaukee’s third consecutive lackluster home performance, as Indiana pulled out a 94-91 victory in front of 16,238 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
"They played a slow, grind-it-out game," Bucks guard Khris Middleton said. "We have to do a better job of playing at our tempo, our speed and just being better offensively.
"We just played a lot slower tonight. We were real stagnant. We didn’t play with a great pace tonight."
Milwaukee missed its first seven shots and hit just 9 of 25 (36.0 percent) of its field-goal attempts in the first quarter but trailed by just two points after one.
The only time the Bucks were able to get out and run was at the end of the second quarter. Milwaukee used six fast-break points to outscore Indiana, 17-10, over the final 5:35 of the first half to build a 53-46 halftime advantage.
But that would be the lone bright sequence for the Bucks, as the second half was one of their worst offensive halves of the season.
Indiana flipped the game to its pace in the third quarter, as the defensive-minded Pacers held Milwaukee to just 15 points in the period. The Bucks went 7 of 20 (35.0 percent) from the field and turned the ball over six times in the third quarter, but Indiana shot even worse at 33.3 percent.
Of Milwaukee’s 15 third-quarter points, nine were scored in the final minute to leave only a five-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter.
"Ball just stopped moving around, bodies stopped moving around," Bucks center Zaza Pachulia said. "I think we went to isolation basketball, and that’s not our game. That’s not how we play, so that’s why we couldn’t score.
"We had no flow until that last couple of seconds. We should control our own pace and tempo, and this is something we didn’t do in the second half. It was one of the biggest reasons why we came out with the loss."
Although they scored 23 points in the final period, the Bucks seemed worse offensively in the fourth quarter than they did in the third. That’s mostly due to going six minutes, 55 seconds without a field goal while the game was hanging in the balance.
John Henson’s dunk with 7:44 to play cut Indiana’s lead to 78-76, but then Milwaukee scored just four points on free throws until a put-back layup by Middleton with 49.5 remaining.
By then, the Pacers held an 87-82 advantage, one they wouldn’t relinquish thanks to hitting seven of their eight free-throw attempts in the final minute.
"The ball didn’t touch the paint," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "When the ball is touching the paint and multiple guys are touching it, it is pretty fun to watch and it is also effective. In the third and fourth quarters, we just didn’t get to it."
The Pacers allow the fewest points per game in the NBA at 96.3 but are one of the worst offensive teams in the league without star Paul George, who is out for the season with fractured right tibia and fibula.
Indiana was without leading scorer George Hill and key reserve C.J. Watson on Friday, but C.J. Miles finished with a game-high 22 points while hitting 6 of 9 shots from distance to pick up the slack offensively.
Miles entered hitting just 31.4 percent of his 3-point attempts on the season but is now 11 of his last 19 from beyond the arc.
"We told the guys that he can shoot," Kidd said. "He is one of the hottest players behind the arc right now. They found out quickly that he was shooting the ball extremely well. He made a couple of tough 3’s, but when you get going early, that basket gets bigger."
The Bucks started the season 7-4 at home but have now dropped three straight at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Milwaukee has played .500 basketball on the road but has been unable to build momentum on its home court.
"Of course it is frustrating," Middleton said. "You want to come home and deliver a win for the fans that have been coming and supporting us all year. To win on the road and come back home and lose is not the best thing, but we’re still winning right now."