The Indiana Pacers had no business winning this game.
In the first half, the Pacers were outscored 55-39 and couldn’t buy a stop for much of the second half as the Chicago Bulls (3-19) shot 62% in the third quarter.
The Pacers came out “lackadaiscal” to begin the game according to Myles Turner. It just didn’t seem to be the Pacers night as the team with the worst field goal percentage in the league couldn’t miss, the Bulls seemed to be magnetized to every loose ball, and turnovers and missed shots were aplenty for the home team.
Cory Joseph said after the game they just seemed to be missing that “extra effort,” calling the Pacers a “little lazy” to start.
They found that extra gear, because, well, Victor Oladipo happened. Again.
To cap off a 24-7 run over the game’s final 8:59, Oladipo got a steal and pulled up for a transition 3-pointer to put the Pacers up one with just over 30 seconds remaining.
“I was surveying the scene at first,” Oladipo told reporters after the game, “just seeing who was back. Nobody stopped me, so I could have kept going and drove into the defense or pull up for the 3 and shoot the ball with confidence. That’s what I did.”
With 8:16 remaining in the game and the Pacers treading water down 13 points, Oladipo came back into the game and quickly hit a three to cut the Bulls lead to 10.
The Pacers outscored the Bulls 22-7 after Oladipo came back in. The energy that was missing all night on the defensive end was suddenly there.
The Pacers were showing more hustle on the defensive end and the Bulls, for the first time all night, starting missing shots as they scored only four points in the final seven minutes.
“The great teams respond,” Oladipo said of the team’s slow start. “It took us until the fourth quarter to do it, but we did it.”
This was the type of game that the Pacers would lose far too often last year. They just didn’t have the same the will to win or leadership or just general fight every night.
That team far too often lost to teams out of the playoff race and finished only 7th in the East largely because of nights that started off like this one. This year’s squad is different.
Oladipo missed a free throw late that left the door open for the Bulls to hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the game for Chicago. After the game, Oladipo did 10 push-ups before starting his post-game interview.
The Pacers new star player in Oladipo, who warned us he was going to dominate, also seems to be an energy spark. He was the one that was diving for loose balls with the Bulls still in relative command of the game.
The Pacers comeback against Detroit that Lance Stephenson put in another gear in the fourth quarter started with a spark from Oladipo in the third to cut into the Pistons lead.
The Pacers follow their leader. He never quits no matter the score and neither do these Indiana Pacers, who looked not fun for the first time all season through the first three quarters.
“Tonight was about growth,” said Nate McMillan. “They stuck together. They believed the entire time they were going to get it right and win this game. It took us all 48 minutes to get control.”
For the second time this season, Oladipo pointed to the home court in a gesture that he debuted after his game-winner against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I didn’t say anything,” said Oladipo when asked about it after the game. “The crowd said it.”
The crowd knows and Indiana knows: this is Oladipo’s state. Oladipo’s city. Oladipo’s team. They wouldn’t have it any other way.