PACERS DEFEAT ROCKETS

Pascal Siakam fuels third-quarter charge to lead Pacers past Rockets

Pascal Siakam fuels third-quarter charge to lead Pacers past Rockets
Rockets fall to Pacers, 132-129. Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images.

Pascal Siakam relied on his scoring punch, T.J. McConnell added the energy and the Indiana Pacers defense turned up the pressure in the second half Tuesday.

It was exactly what they needed.

Siakam finished with 29 points and teamed up with McConnell to score 17 during a third-quarter rally that propelled the Pacers past the Houston Rockets 132-129.

“The third quarter, we just kind of sat down, get down into the bodies and pressured more,” Siakam said. “That's how we've got to be, that's how we've got to play defense to continue to evolve, which I think is an area that can make us a special team.”

The defense has been Indiana's biggest weakness most of this season. But with the addition of Siakam through a mid-January trade with Toronto and the savviness of McConnell, things could be changing.

McConnell had 17 points and four assists as the Pacers allowed 54 second-half points just two days after holding their first opponent to less than 100.

The result: Indiana won its second straight overall and for the ninth time in the series.

But Houston sure made it tough.

Jalen Green had 30 points in the Rockets' second straight loss while Dillon Brooks added 23. Rookie Amen Thompson finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and six assists as Houston played without starting guard Fred VanVleet, who coach Ime Udoka said isn't likely to return until closer to the All-Star break.

And yet, Houston still seemed to be in control when it extended a 75-68 halftime lead to 85-75 early in the third. Then, over the final 9:53 of the quarter, everything changed.

“We defended well for two quarters, second and fourth,” Udoka said. “We didn't feel like we had to take any contested shots tonight, just continuing to penetrate and kick, make easy reads. We didn't really duplicate it as well in the second half.”

The difference showed. While Indiana's defense allowed just 14 points during that long third-quarter stretch, Siakam and McConnell fueled the comeback. Indiana used that closing 31-17 flurry to take a 106-99 lead.

Houston never fully recovered as Indiana quickly extended the margin to 14 early in the fourth and the Rockets couldn't get closer than seven until Alperen Sengun's tip-in made it 129-124 with 1:13 to go.

Green's 3 with 46 seconds to play cut the deficit to 130-127.

But two-time All-Star Tyrese Haliburton answered with a layup to seal the victory despite continuing to play on a minutes restriction as he continues to rehab from a left hamstring injury. He had 18 points, seven assists and one giant smile.

“There's a little bit of service after the game, but in the game, I feel good after a little while so that's a positive,” he said. “To be able to start games, finish games and play close to my traditional minutes, I'm just happy to be more healthy.”

UP NEXT

Rockets: Continue their four-game road trip Friday night at Toronto.

Pacers: Host Golden State on Thursday night.

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Cristian Javier is in better shape this season. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.

Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).

Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.

But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.

In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.

Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.

The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.

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