The Indiana Pacers (5-5) have won four of their last five games and are tied for 6th in the Eastern Conference after beating the New Orleans Pelicans by a final score of 129-122.
So are the Pacers actually … good?
“We’re not going to get carried away,” Rick Carlisle said after the game in an attempt to temper any expectations from this nice stretch.
Speak for yourself, Rick! All aboard the playoffs hype train!
“We’re going to keep working every day,” Carlisle continued in his wise, non-reactionary way. “We’ll come back and get ready for Denver. But tonight was a great night. I was impressed with every player that stepped on the court, and every player that did not step on the court. We had a real spirited effort.”
The wild thing about the start to this season is when you compare it to last year’s start with a team full of veterans that were supposed to be pushing for the postseason. The Pacers never reached .500 over the course of last season, nor did they ever win 4 of 5 games. The closest they ever came to doing so was when they were 6-8 and had won 5 of 7.
The difference in the vibes of these two teams is immense. Some of that is the no expectations and the still fresh newness of the roster but it’s much easier to buy into the hope of this group than the staleness of praying for the health of the last iteration.
This hot stretch may not last forever, veterans like Hield and Turner may eventually be traded as the team shifts it’s focus to the future (you do have to wonder if the Pacers are hovering around .500 how into trading these guys Pacers owner Herb Simon will be), but if they continue to be this fun, it’s going to be a great ride no matter what happens.
1. Speaking of rides, the Myles Turner roller coaster reaches a new peak in a dominate performance
37 points (11 of 18), 12 rebounds, 3 blocks. In arguably the best game of his career, Myles Turner was a force throughout the game. The most impressive part of this one is how he continued to do damage no matter what the Pelicans tried on defense. Unlike his 40-point explosion against the Wizards where they never seemed to adjust to Turner being hotter than that Bunsen burner I once foolishly grabbed in chemistry class, he had to deal with a variety of coverages and defenders against the Pelicans.
In the past over the course of his career, when Turner would have a hot first half (typically by hitting a bunch of midrange pick-and-pop jumpers), he’d generally disappear in the second half as teams adjusted to switching on picks and then some combination of Turner’s lack of post-up game and his teammates inability to make post-entry passes would eliminate him from the offense (I do not miss watching Darren Collison take jumpers over taller switching defenders without ever considering passing it inside).
So one of the most encouraging aspects of tonight’s game (and the previous contest) for Turner is that he has punished teams for switching smaller players onto him and he has teammates that both trust him with the ball inside and have the ability to make those entry passes.
In this game, the Pelicans started off by blitzing Tyrese Haliburton whenever a screener would come to him but it worked about as well as blitzing Peyton Manning as Haliburton tore apart the defense, often by finding a wide open Turner at the basket like he was Dallas Clark open down the seam of the defense. After a few easy baskets with these blown coverages and one where he beat Zion Williamson down the floor gave Turner some rhythm, he hit his first two 3-pointers of the game and finished the first quarter with 12 points on 5 shot attempts.
After Turner, among many others, had done enough to force the Pelicans to diverge from their make someone other than Haliburton beat them plan (only four shot attempts for the point guard in the first half), they started switching everything and often went smaller with less of both Valanciunas and Williamson on the floor at the same time. This both opened things up for Haliburton’s third quarter shooting explosion and allowed Turner to feast on mismatch after mismatch inside.
Back in the Victor Oladipo era, it eventually reached the point where Turner wouldn’t even try to post up after a switch because he knew the ball wasn’t coming his way. So he would instead spread to the corner to prepare the runway for the Oladipo attack. In the fourth quarter, the Pacers primary goal on offense was feeding Turner the ball inside after every switch with Haliburton saying after the game that he told Turner that he was “trying to get him 40.” And while Turner left some points on the board with a couple misses on these plays, his teammates kept looking for him and he did more than enough to hold any chance for a Pelicans comeback at bay with 8 points on 2 of 4 shooting in the final six and half minutes. In this stretch and throughout the game, he drew numerous fouls and finished 11 for 11 on his free throws.
Now, as has been addressed post-Woj interview and subsequent expected letdown game against the Nets, the key for Turner this season is going to be finding consistency especially if he wants to “break out” this year as he told Michael Scotto or reach that potential that he’s talked about not even coming close to yet. His personal 5-game start to the season has been more up and down than my emotions watching the Futurama episode about Fry’s dog.
Turner’s averages for the season so far are impressive and more than enough to earn him a large bag in free agency next summer: 18.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks with shooting splits of 50/40/84.5. The only problem is that he’s rarely been at those averages. He’s had two way above those average games, two way below those average games, and only one in the middle.
His splits on wins and losses are comical. The Pacers are 3-2 in games that he’s played in and in the 3 wins, he’s averaging 26.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and shooting 61% overall and 61% from 3. In losses, he’s averaging 6 points and 5.5 rebounds and shooting 20% overall and 0% from 3. Obviously, this is small-size theatre but it speaks to the inconsistency that Turner has struggled with to begin his 8th season and at times throughout his career.
I’ve gone on and on about Turner and haven’t even touched his Mylestone mark of reaching 1,000 blocks as he joined Jermaine O’Neal, Rik Smits, and Herb Williams as Pacers players to reach that number wearing the Indiana blue and gold. He did tonight with two impressive blocks on Zion and added his 1,001st block on a Brandon Ingram attempt in the fourth quarter. It’s not likely especially with a trade at the deadline always possible but Turner could end the season at the top of the Pacers block leader list.