Nets forward Mikal Bridges shoots while being defended by Pacers...

Nets forward Mikal Bridges shoots while being defended by Pacers forward Aaron Nesmith during the first half of an NBA game in Indianapolis on Saturday. Credit: AP/Doug McSchooler

INDIANAPOLIS — “Effort’’ was the key word all week for the Nets. They were frustrated by their lack of it, tired of repeating themselves about it and vowed changes to fix it.

The Nets showed progress Saturday for a half but wilted in the third quarter as their cold shooting spell was countered by a hot Pacers run. The result, a 121-100 loss at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, felt familiar — an inability to sustain a strong start.

Tyrese Haliburton started the game 1-for-11 but had nine points in the third quarter as the Pacers broke away with a 14-2 run. Haliburton made a floater, steal and layup on consecutive possessions. The All-Star then dazzled the crowd with a no-look alley-oop pass to Obi Toppin for a reverse dunk.

The Nets (26-41) couldn’t match that intensity on offense and didn’t have it on defense.

The Pacers (38-30) marched to the rim at will with 82 paint points, the most allowed by the Nets all season. Their 30 second- chance points matched the most by a Nets opponent this season.

“Like I say, we got to play perfect games to win and we got to do all the small things,” interim coach Kevin Ollie said. “You can’t turn the ball over, can’t have 21 turnovers, you got to protect your paint.”

Ollie also lamented too much one-on-one basketball in the second half after the Nets trailed 59-57 at halftime. The Pacers took advantage, converting the Nets’ season high in turnovers into 30 points.

When the Nets cut the lead to 86-80 to open the fourth quarter, the Pacers’ bench responded, leading an 11-3 run to push the lead to 14. The lack of response must have felt familiar to frustrated Nets fans, whether it came against a playoff contender like the Pacers or a bottom-feeder in the Hornets last week.

It pushed them 3 1⁄2 games behind the Hawks for the final spot in the play-in tournament. With their next loss, the Nets will clinch their first losing season since 2019-20. That was the season Kevin Durant sat out with an Achilles injury after signing as a free agent.

These Nets don’t have the luxury of blaming their struggles on a missing All-Star, unless one counts Ben Simmons, who was one in 2021. Their issues have been laid bare all season: a lack of consistency, defensive lapses and too many offensive lulls

Consider Saturday’s third quarter. The Nets led 66-65 with 8:58 remaining, then shot 2-for-11 the rest of the period against a team ranked second-to-last in points allowed per game. They also had three turnovers.

“We were just settling,” Cam Johnson said. “It’s just settling and not willing to put in the extra effort and get the ball moving and attack, kick out and play that way.’’

Cam Thomas led the Nets with 22 points, and his eight rebounds tied his career high for a second consecutive game. Johnson, in his second straight game off the bench, added 14 points.

Pascal Siakam had 28 points for the Pacers. Aaron Nesmith added 16. Haliburton had 14 points and outdueled Mikal Bridges, who started alongside him last summer for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup.

Bridges scored seven points, shot 1-for-8 and had seven rebounds. It was his fewest shots in a game since Dec. 27, when he and others were pulled in the first quarter.

“I don’t know. I feel like it was fine,” Bridges said of the shots he took. “Just trying to make the right play when I do have it.”

The Nets will face the Spurs and rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama on Sunday in Austin, Texas — and with 15 games left, time is running out to fix things.

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