In Victor Oladipo’s absence, many of the Indiana Pacers stepped up in a combined effort to fill the void of their superstar and did so as well as anyone could have hoped. Now, those same players are allowing Oladipo to ease back into playing like his old self as he returns to action from his injury.
“I can’t get it all back in one possession. I haven’t played in three weeks,” said Oladipo after last night’s statement win against the Bucks. “You try to come out here and do too much, you kind of hurt your team a little bit and you hurt yourself. … My team has been playing well. Like I said, I learned a lot sitting out and watching them. I trust my teammates and I trust they’ll make the right play.”
The Pacers performed admirably without Oladipo as they went 8-4 including his quick exit against the Hawks. You can go through the entire rotation and find instances of each player stepping up their game but perhaps none more than Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner.
You have to wonder if Oladipo would have tried to come back much sooner if the team wasn’t playing well. The team’s depth came through.
Bogdanovic averaged 19.6 points during the 12-game stretch and leads the league in 3-point percentage on the season, becoming the Pacers go-to scoring threat. Turner was dominant on the defensive end, playing the best on that end of the floor in his career, while also becoming more consistently involved on the offensive end averaging 13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in that same timeframe.
“It’s been good. We need him to play at that high level,” Oladipo said of Turner raising his level of play after joking that it was due to his new ponytail.
By allowing his teammates to carry more of the load even as he returned, he was able to let the game come to him. Pacers head coach Nate McMillan was very pleased with his approach to his first game back.
“I thought he was perfect. You know, when you’ve been off for a long time like that, you focus on the defensive end of the floor,” McMillan said. “… you get your wind that way offensively and just allow the game to come to you. He’s been watching us for the last couple weeks and I thought he did a good job of moving the ball and getting guys involved.”
Oladipo, who finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, was mostly a bystander on offense in the first half, taking and making just one shot in each of the first two quarters: a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer and a floater at the very end of the first half.
“Vic did a great job,” said Turner on him coming back. “First of all, he didn’t force anything. He let the game come to him. He was really out there trying to set guys up more than he was trying to score.”
Both Turner and Oladipo talked about watching film and seeing how he was forcing things too often in the pick-and-roll and settling for long twos in the first game against the Bucks. That combined with him coming back from an injury and his teammates playing so well made it easy for him to look more for others in his initial return.
“With how far back their big was in the pick and roll, throwing it back to him was huge for us,” said Oladipo of the team finding Turner wide open often. “It was big time that he was hitting his shots. It opened up the floor for everybody else.”
The Pacers didn’t quite have the luxury of easing him back last season as they lost every game they played without him. When he returned from a stretch missed with knee soreness, he immediately came out and scored 23 points in just 22 minutes.
“He realized he doesn’t have to do a lot watching us and seeing so many guys contribute,” Darren Collison said. “Some games he’s going to have to be more aggressive, some games he’s not. But I think he realized he doesn’t have to come into the game being ultra-aggressive, because he has some weapons on this team.”
While the Pacers had nothing but positive things to say about how Oladipo let the game come to him in this one, they still want him to eventually get back to what’s made him so successful and fun to watch.
“We need Vic to be Vic,” Turner said. “We don’t want him to shy away from what’s gotten him to his ascension and who is he now, but at the same time I think he sees that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He knows he has a lot of guys that can help.”
Oladipo is no longer listed on the injury report and practiced today, saying his knee “feels great” after his 29 minutes the previous night. With the knee healthy and one game under his belt, he’ll be even closer to being back to himself, but he won’t have to rush anything. His teammates increased confidence will make sure of that.
“I missed it a lot. You appreciate things a lot more when they’re kind of taken away from you almost,” Oladipo said of coming back. “I love this game. I love playing out here with my teammates. I missed playing with them and I missed playing in front of these fans. Just thankful that I can come out here and compete at a high level.”