For the entire second quarter, it felt as if the Indiana Pacers may never lose a game again as they dominated the Denver Nuggets 43-21 to take a 14-point lead into halftime. But alas, the wheels fell off for reasons to be discussed and the Nuggets came back from an 18-point lead to win by a final score of 122-119.
Despite the loss, this team continues to just bring a real joyous energy to the table. The ball moves around; they fly around the court. It’s going to take some time for these young guys to learn how to win with consistency but it’s a blast watching them learn these lessons. Let’s dive into the specifics for this one:
1. Benne. Dict. Energy.
This man is a rookie? Bennedict Mathurin has only played in 11 games?
This is the second time in his short career that his pull-up 3-pointing has made me audibly gasp and then he’ll do it another two times and my wife will have to rush into the room to make sure everything’s alright.
“Yes, sorry, it’s just Bennedict Mathurin.”
The Pacers entered the second quarter down by 8. In less than four minutes the Pacers were ahead by 8. In that stretch, the Pacers scored on all six of their possessions with Mathurin having 14 of the 18 points for the team in that stretch.
He started the quarter with a mid-range floater and then hit four 3-pointers, three of which came on three straight possessions. One as the secondary screener out of Spain pick and roll and two that were just pull-up, unassisted, watch me hit this shot in Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, or whoever else’s face that they want to try to put on me jaw droppers.
He finished the quarter with a franchise record 18-points in the second quarter and his scoring outburst both brought Nikola Jokic back into the game and then took him out of the game when Mathurin drew the 4th foul of the half on Jokic on a drive to the basket and then when he was starting to run out of gas found his final bucket of the quarter by sprinting down the floor and receiving a perfect transition bounce pass from Tyrese Haliburton for the dunk. He was the catalyst in the 43-21 beatdown of the Nuggets in the second quarter that gave the Pacers a 14-point halftime lead.
One of my favorite things about Mathurin when he goes on these hot shooting streaks is how he’ll get to the point where he’s above celebrating them. You’ll see him occasionally release an arrow that he pulls from his imaginary quiver on his back but when he hits his third straight he just walks back on defense, lets the crowd do all the celebrating for him, acting like none of this is out of the ordinary.
He finished the game with 30 points in only 25 minutes. The minute total is too low for a guy that was on a hot streak like he was but he did have his issues in other parts of his game in this one. He struggled with completing passes and had four turnovers with zero assists. I’m not sure he’s ever made a pass with two hands and he likes to fire them inside like a quarterback squeezing the ball into a tight window in the endzone. While he sees those opportunities, he’s not there yet with his accuracy and timing. The defensive end of the court is still an adventure. Jeff Green had a thunderous dunk inside after blowing by a lazy closeout where Mathurin too casually just walked toward Green allowing him an easy path to the basket from the 3-point line.
Mathurin already has two 30-point games on his resume after 11 games. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these scoring displays is that they’ve followed the two worst games of those 11. In two games against the Wizards and the Pelicans, Mathurin looked tentative and deferential and wasn’t his usual ultra-aggressive self, scoring just 11 and 8 points. In each of the games that followed, he just lit the opposing team’s defense on fire from the second he entered the game.
The first time he touches the ball in this one, less than 30 seconds after entering the game, Mathurin immediately pulls a transition 3-pointer and it goes in. A couple of possessions later, he hits a little mid-range shot off of a new wrinkle in the playbook that they ran a few times in this one with another guard going to screen for Haliburton and then slipping inside instead of ghosting the screen and running towards the 3-point line like Buddy Hield often does in those scenarios. His only miss in his first eight shot attempts came on a nasty reverse layup attempt that he nearly finished.
He cooled off in the second half and the Nuggets were clearly paying more attention to him on the offensive end but added 7 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.
2. Isaiah Jackson is getting better
In 18 minutes, IJax put up 17 points and 10 rebounds. My first question is, “Why is he only playing 18 minutes in this game?” Oddly, Carlisle decided to remove Jackson when he picked up his third foul in the third quarter for Goga Bitadze as Myles Turner had already picked up his 4th. Jackson never picked up another foul in the game and Bitadze did not seem prepared to play in this one, looking worse than he had earlier in the season.
Jackson’s play of the game came on an alley oop that TJ McConnell sent high and Jackson glided through the air and threw it down with his left-hand. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this prophesied in the Old Testament. Ah, yes, here it is.
My personal favorite play from Isaiah Jackson came on the defensive end, however, where he blocked one shot from Bones Hyland inside and then quickly recovered back to the rim and challenged Michael Porter Jr. with textbook Roy Hibbert verticality to force another miss. Jackson can still struggle with foul trouble and commit some frustrating ones at times by reaching in or on moving screens but if he can continue to sprinkle in moments of verticality at the rim, it’ll solve some of those problems that he has.
Jackson also hit a couple jumpers off the bounce where Deandre Jordan was daring him to shoot. One with a nice between the legs rhythm dribble and another where he just casually stepped up to the free-throw line and knocked it down. Another lob caused Quinn Buckner to yell out, “That’s basketball!” which is always a great sign that things are going well.