The Indiana Pacers are over .500. The Indiana Pacers have a winning record. The Indiana Pacers have won six of their last eight games and sit at 6th in the Eastern Conference standings. These are not things that I expected to write this season.
The Pacers (7-6) ended a 6-game losing streak in Charlotte in the regular season and made their second straight double-digit comeback to win by a final score of 125-113. The Pacers are set up to have every opportunity to continue their hot start as they have the Rockets on Friday and the Magic for two straight games after that.
1. The Pacers sliced up the Hornets’ drop coverage
After facing many teams that cover pick and rolls either by switching or playing at the level of the screen, Tyrese Haliburton’s eyes probably lit up with the Hornets and their drop coverage on the schedule for tonight.
If you want to learn more about the different coverages of pick and roll, The Basketball Action Dictionary does a fantastic job here:
“We hadn’t seen drop coverage in a little while,” Haliburton told reporters after the game. “… We haven’t seen it a ton this year. We feel like it’s a coverage that’s good for us, that we feel very comfortable with. With four shooters out there and Myles, that gives him more freedom to roll. I think he’s a little undersold on how good of a roller he is.”
The league-leading assist man walked right through the Hornets drop coverage with ease whether it was driving into the lane far enough to force Mason Plumlee to commit and leave an easy dump off for Turner to dunk, or using a snake dribble to pull up at the free-throw line, or just laying the ball up himself if Plumlee never bothered to stop him. It all felt very easy as Haliburton racked up numbers slightly above his season averages without much resistance at 22 points and 11 assists.
“Both sides of the ball. We couldn’t stop them,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “Their pick-and-roll stuff just crushed us and, besides transition, that’s what they do. … Look, they’re the second-best offensive team in the league and we couldn’t stop them.”
The Pacers are ranked 3rd in points per game after last night at 117.9 points and tied for 5th in offensive net rating.
Turner was the other beneficiary of the Hornets defensive coverage, after multiple games where he had feasted on switches inside, this time it was his roll game doing the work. After the Pacers fell behind by 14 in the second quarter, Turner scored 8 points over the Pacers next four possessions with two dunks on rolls to the basket, a 3-pointer, and making 1 of 2 free throws. He was instrumental in the strong finish to the second quarter that helped the Pacers gain momentum while going from down 14 (46-60) to down just 3 (60-63) at halftime.
“My teammates are setting me up,” said Turner after the game. “… I think my teammates have a lot of trust in me to make the right play and they’re putting me in position to do so. … Tyrese is going to set me up. I know that. I know if I get to the right spots, he’s going to deliver it.”
This was the fourth straight double double for Turner who finished with 20 points (7 of 10), 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal.
#2 Bennedict Mathurin continues to get buckets
Professional Bucket Getter. The rookie continues to get points in bunches like it’s no big deal. He scored 20 points (7 of 13) in just 22 minutes and got to the line another six times. His scoring arsenal continues to be impressive.
Mathurin scored all of his points in a pair of 10-point outbursts at the start of the second and the fourth quarters. In the second quarter, he scored 10 points over six straight possessions where he hit a pair of floaters, drove to the basket for a layup, hit an open 3-pointer, and drew a foul and many one of two shots. TJ McConnell missed a shot on the only other possession in this stretch.
In the fourth quarter, Mathurin repeated this stretch, entering the fourth quarter tied, Mathurin scored the Pacers first 10 points again with two driving floaters, one drive to the basket where he tipped in his own miss, and drew two fouls and made all four free throws. It gave the Pacers a 100-95 lead at the end of his personal run.
Outside of getting those buckets is what is keeping Mathurin coming off the bench and not playing more than 22 minutes. His handle will need a lot of tightening as his career progresses for him to really grow into his full potential. He only had one turnover on his handle but you can see him not have full control of his dribble and it’ll prevent him from getting fully downhill on a drive or make things more difficult than they could have been.
After his 10-point outburst came his turnover and then a bit of a casual pass that Buddy Hield couldn’t control at the top of the key that led to a pair of Hornets buckets in transition and a 104-102 Hornets lead and Mathurin was pulled out of the game and fellow rookie Andrew Nembhard closed the game out.
- Have we completed the annual stretch to start the season where Oshae Brissett is oddly not playing in the rotation and then has a couple nice games and re-cements his status as a solid player for this team? We can only hope. Brissett played 21 minutes in this game and finally found his rhythm on his 3-point stroke by making both of his attempts from deep and a pair of free throws for 8 points.
- Jalen Smith scored exactly his average of 11 points! This doesn’t seem like a big deal I know but his numbers were less stable and consistent than a meme crypto currency. Before tonight, Smith had scored 15 or more points seven times and 8 points or below five times but no games with between 9-14 points.
- Andrew Nembhard continues to impress and the Pacers continue to win games with him in the starting lineup. He made 5 of 6 shots in his 22 minutes for 13 points and led the team in plus/minus at +20. He had 3 steals in this one, my favorite coming on a Terry Rozier pass where he tried to casually dump it off inside and Nembhard just read it right away and stole it with ease.
- The Pacers made 53.7% of their shots in this one for a season high. The only stat blemish on this game were the 14 offensive rebounds that they gave up and losing the rebound battle 44-34 in this one. It’s been a surprising strength of this team this season as they rank 6th in overall rebound percentage and 12th in defensive rebound percentage so far this season.
- This season feels a lot like that 2017-18 season where the team was expected to be bad but kept on surprising people. That team also had a knack for coming back from big deficits and you never felt like they were completely out of games if they fell behind in the first half. The big difference between these two teams is the youth of this roster where you have major hopes of so many of these guys continuing to improve and get better. Whether or not they will continue to win games after this stretch against lottery teams ends or how long guys like Turner and Hield will be around is unknown, but this team is going to be fun to watch. You also have to think that the longer that the team hovers around .500 that it will be harder for them to pull the plug on a season with a trade of those two veterans. But that won’t stop the Myles Turner rumors, nothing can stop those. The latest being that the Clippers are interested.