Pacers rookie Aaron Holiday makes his first opportunity count

INDIANAPOLIS–Aaron Holiday hadn’t played meaningful minutes all season. The Indiana Pacers first-round draft pick hadn’t played at all in the team’s last nine consecutive games.

Tonight, Holiday came in with 3:14 left in the third quarter and never came back out, electrifying the crowd with pull-up 3-pointers, chasedown block attempts in transition, and a nifty behind-the-back assist.

“We don’t win this game if he doesn’t come in and play the way he did on both ends of the floor,” Nate McMillan said of the rookie point guard.

Holiday, who finished with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in his 15 minutes, pulled up for a 3-pointer in transition upon almost immediately after entering the game. The shot gave the Pacers the lead at 68-67 and they never gave it back. The Pacers went on to win 97-89 over the Atlanta Hawks.

With Victor Oladipo exiting the game with knee soreness early in the first quarter, the Pacers were in need of a next man up as the game swayed with large runs from both teams as the Pacers went from down 10 to up 3 to down 12 before Holiday’s shot gave them the lead for good in the third quarter.

“Anytime we lose a guy like Victor, we have to figure out a way to supplement his scoring and his defensive ability,” said Thad Young, who added 11 points and 7 rebounds, “and we figured it out. We got a lot of guys that can step up on any given night and tonight … Aaron was the true player of the game.”

Young is impressed with the team’s rookie and he earned the praise of many of the veterans in the locker room after the game.

“I’ve always said that he’s better than his draft number,” Young said of Holiday. “Definitely could have been one of the guys in the top 10 especially when you put him one-on-one against anybody in his draft class. He’s done a good job waiting for his turn, staying poised and the sky’s the limit for him.”

Darren Collison, who went 4 for 5 in the second half with 12 points after missing all five of his first-half attempts, was glad to see Holiday be rewarded after seeing him working hard throughout training camp and during the season.

“He’s stayed working, the first one in the gym,” Collison said of his fellow UCLA point guard. “It just makes you happy for somebody that has that success like he did tonight. He’s a real good player. He’s going to be a good player in this league … It’s only going to be sky’s the limit because that kid can play. Once he gets his opportunity on a consistent basis, it’s going to be good things to come.”

Both Collison and Young noted his sky-high potential. Cory Joseph said he thinks Holiday will have a long career, but Holiday knows he still has a lot to prove and isn’t getting too high off of just a single game.

“I don’t think I earned anything yet,” Holiday said when asked if he thought this game would lead to more playing time. “It’s just one game. I’ll just keeping working, see what happens.”

While Holiday would clearly like to be playing more often, he understands it’s a waiting game for him at the start of his career.

“It’s very tough,” Holiday said. “Being a competitor like I am, I wanted to get out there, but obviously, in the league you have to wait for your time and I’m just happy it came today.”

The team took a final turning point after the Hawks had scored 17 straight points from the end of the second quarter through the beginning of the third. After a quick timeout, Thad Young took it upon himself to call out the team for the lack of effort.

“The players gathered, and they knew that we needed this game,” said McMillan. “… Sometimes those guys have to police themselves, and that was a moment when they knew that. There’s only so much that I can say … I can call a timeout, but you know you need to get it together and that was a moment where they got together and talked about playing better basketball and we ended up winning that game.”

Bojan Bogdanovic led the team in scoring with 22 points. Myles Turner had his first double double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Domas Sabonis had a nice all-around game with 9 points, 16 rebounds and 6 assists.

The Pacers were 0-5 last season without Oladipo in the lineup and while technically he played tonight this was a good sign for the team’s depth and ability to find ways to win without their All Star player at all or without him at his best for the second straight night.

The Pacers won last night’s game against the Miami Heat with Oladipo having one of his worst nights as a Pacer with just 8 points as Tyreke Evans took over with his best game in Indiana with 23 points. Another game, another player steps up.

Oladipo is day-to-day with the knee soreness and while the team certainly hopes he doesn’t have to miss any games, they look more equipped to deal with his absence now than last season.

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