Leaf leads comeback with 18 points in the fourth quarter

Pacers first-round draft pick TJ Leaf scored 18 points in the fourth quarter as the Pacers overcame a 10-point deficit with six minutes remaining to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-102. The Pacers are now 2-0 in the preseason.

“This is my second NBA game,” Leaf said after the victory. “It definitely gives me some confidence knowing if I play my role I can be successful.”

Leaf did most of his damage from beyond the arc as the rookie hit four 3-pointers in the quarter. During Summer League, Leaf had not yet adjusted to the longer above-the-break NBA 3-pointer and missed every non-corner three he took, but he seems used to the distance now. Three of his long balls were near the top of the key.

“It was good to see him knock down some shots and stay aggressive,” said Nate McMillan, “We drew up a play for him and he came off and nailed that three, so that was a big shot. A very confident kid, and that’s how we want him to play, don’t worry about mistakes, stay aggressive and play the game, and I thought he did that.”

When Leaf hits his 3-point shot, he can then use his drive game as defenders have to close out hard on his shot attempts. Leaf took advantage on a couple of drives in the fourth as he earned a trip to the foul line on the first and scored on a layup on the second.

While he did his damage against Cavaliers bench guys like Derrick Williams and Channing Frye, it’s encouraging to see the rookie take advantage of these kinds of matchups. This is where Leaf can make his mark early in his career on the offensive end. He’ll struggle on defense as he’s slow on the perimeter and needs to add strength inside. This was a good sign for Leaf to show he can contribute early, as increased struggles may have led the Pacers to go back to Al Jefferson as the backup center and move Domantas Sabonis to backup power forward.

Sabonis was another bright spot in game two of the season as he scored 17 points in only 18 minutes, making six of his eight shot attempts and adding seven rebounds. Sabonis shot under 40% in his rookie season, primarily because he was limited to the perimeter. With the Pacers, his post game should be utilized much more, which should lead to a higher field goal percentage for Sabonis.

Other notes from game two:
Glenn Robinson III’s injury is a missed opportunity. Bojan Bogdanovic has struggled with his shot in his first two games as a Pacer. Bogdanovic has only one made 3-point shot in nine attempts and it was banked in. If GR3 was healthy and playing well, he might be making some noise to move into the starting lineup. Instead, he’s only able to watch and rehab as he awaits his ankle to heal up. Hopefully, he can return at full strength and still have a breakout season that he seemed poised for before the injury.

Damien Wilkins is going to make the team. McMillan played the 37-year-old for 24 minutes, more than just about anyone in the second preseason game. Alex Poythress played only four minutes, while Ben Moore and Jarrod Uthoff have still yet to see the floor. You have to question McMillan’s decision making here as there’s little to be gained by playing Wilkins that much instead of the young guys that could gain tremendous experience playing at an NBA pace. It would be beneficial to the Pacers to see what they have in Moore, Uthoff, and Poythress in these next two games in an actual game setting.

Myles Turner continues to look awesome. Early in the game the Pacers were struggling to keep up with the LeBron James-less Cavs, but Turner was a bright spot. This may be a common occurrence when the Pacers play contenders this season. In one short two-minute stretch, Turner scored a basket on a fadeaway in the post, made a great recovery on defense to block a Kevin Love layup attempt, made a perfect pass for an assist to wide open Oladipo for a layup, and then hit another jump shot on the Pacers next offensive possession. He finished with 12 points in 21 minutes.

The Pacers are intent on shooting more 3-pointers. The Pacers had one of the highest percentages from distance last season but were at the bottom of the league in attempts. The Pacers are averaging 30 3-point attempts in the first two preseason games so far this year and while the results haven’t been great, it’s good to see the Pacers embracing the long range game. Percentages should improve as Bojan finds his jumper again and Turner’s shot starts falling, but players like Lance Stephenson and Victor Oladipo will likely shoot plenty of threes, but remain inconsistent on results. This would still be better than Stephenson and Oladipo settling for midrange jumpers instead.

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