With Oladipo back, Pacers looking to be a top team in the East

INDIANAPOLIS–“I tell you one thing, the East is in trouble now, boy.”

Myles Turner jumped in during Victor Oladipo’s post-game interview on Fox Sports Indiana and made the verbal statement that the Indiana Pacers had made during the game as they beat the Milwaukee Bucks by a final score of 113-97 for their fifth straight win.

It’s just one game but the Pacers are now only a half game back of the Bucks for second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 18-10 with essentially 12 of those games coming without their star in Oladipo. It was the polar opposite of the Bucks destruction of the Pacers at the beginning of the season.

“It is a big game, but we still see these guys a couple more times,” said Darren Collison. “We’re trying to put it to the whole Eastern Conference. We want to be one of the best teams in the conference.”

Oladipo returned but his teammates continued to carry the load as they had done while he was out. Oladipo took just two shots in the first half, clearly easing his way back into things after an extended absence.

“I can’t get it all back in one possession,” said Oladipo, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in 29 minutes. “I haven’t played in three weeks. You try to come out here and do too much, you kind of hurt your team a little bit … I trust my teammates and I trust they’ll make the right play. Guys stepped up and played huge tonight. Myles, Thad, DC hit big shots down the stretch. I’m just glad to be back to help and continue to keep getting better.”

Thad Young is typically the guy whose box-score numbers don’t show his entire impact but tonight they did him justice as he led the team in scoring and did a masterful job on Giannis Antetokounmpo all game.

“I mean I really don’t care,” Young laughed at whether this was his best game as a Pacer. “I’ve never been one to care about stats or anything like that. If I score 2 points and we get the win, I’m happy.”

Young had a season-high 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, five steals and a block while holding Antetokounmpo to a season-low 12 points and just seven shot attempts. Young was +28 while he was on the floor and the Bucks star was -31. Young looked like the one that was a possible MVP candidate on this night.

“Great team defense,” Young said on slowing down Antetokounmpo. “My teammates were in gaps and every time I made him spin, they jumped in front of him. Guys were just making him pass the ball out. … He’s a tough guy to guard, especially in transition .. he has me tired right now.”

Teammates all had high praise for their captain’s defensive performance:

“That’s something you’re going to get all year long,” said Collison. “It’s not easy guarding Giannis. Giannis is playing at an MVP-type level and to play defense against him is pretty amazing. You have to give credit to Thaddeus.”

Myles Turner agreed: “Thad was great. He was able to step up with defense on Giannis and we had his back. And he made all the hustle plays. He had all the rebounds, hit some big shots. He had a great overall performance tonight.”

Turner, rocking the ponytail for the second-consecutive game, continued his superb play of late as he scored 23 points on a career-high 22 shot attempts with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

“It’s the hair … no, I’m just playing,” Oladipo said of Turner’s play of late. “It’s been good. We need him to play at that high level. I felt like he was open a lot today as far back as the big was in the pick-and-roll. Throwing it back to him was key for us and it was big time that he was hitting his shots. It opened up the floor for everybody else. A big game from him tonight.”

Turner took a career-high 22 shots including six 3-point attempts. His last three ended a Bucks run that cut the lead briefly to single digits in the fourth and pushed the Pacers lead back to 11.

“Everybody looked at me and said, ‘Man, you gotta shoot when you’re that wide open,'” Turner on his career-high attempts. I didn’t realize I put up 22 shots … My team encouraged me to shoot those shots. It wasn’t like I was out there jacking. I took what was given to me.”

Ponytail Myles seems to ooze with confidence as his last two games with the ponytail are his only 20-point scoring games of the season to this point.

“That’s what everybody is gassing up, saying it’s the ponytail,” Turner said, “so I guess I gotta keep it.”

The Pacers got off to a 22-9 start in the game’s first six minutes and while the Bucks repeatedly cut into the Pacers lead with mini-runs, they never allowed them to get too close before someone on the Pacers shifted momentum back to their side.

“Indiana’s aggressiveness and execution on both ends of the court. I give them a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, “they were very good tonight. We couldn’t match it, we kept hanging around a little bit, felt like maybe we could make a run, but they would hit a big shot.”

The Pacers dominated the rebounding battle in this one by a margin of 55-43 and held the Bucks to just 25.6% from the 3-point line.

Bojan Bogdanovic added 16 points. Doug McDermott hit all five of his attempts from the floor for 12 points and Domas Sabonis quietly had another double double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Indiana has the 3rd-best defensive rating in the league at this point and the 7th-best overall net rating all while missing a huge chunk of games from their best player. The Pacers have another chance to show they belong with the best teams at the top of the Eastern Conference on Friday as they take on the Philadelphia 76ers.

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