The Indiana Pacers moved to 8-6 after their third straight double-digit comeback victory. This time it came against the Houston Rockets who led 30-10 near the beginning of the second quarter.
Yes, the Pacers scored only 10 points in the first quarter, the lowest amount that any team has scored in the opening quarter this season so far. I don’t know if it was just a matter of underestimating the youthful, tanktastic Rockets or if they were having flashbacks to the pandemic arenas with how empty the place looked at the start of the game, but the Pacers couldn’t do anything right during the first 12 minutes of the game. Eric Gordon was just driving through the lane and getting anything he wanted on offense.
Rick Carlisle was so fed up with the effort that he took advantage of a no call in the second quarter as an opportunity to get a couple technicals and get ejected from the game. Either he would fire up his team or he wouldn’t have to watch this ugly one any longer. Seems like a win-win to me outside of the fines.
Carlisle was ejected with 3:49 remaining in the second quarter and the Pacers down 46-33 after Jalen Green hit one of two technical free throws. The Pacers outscored the Rockets 66-45 for the remainder of the game.
None of this looked to have mattered for a moment with Tyrese Haliburton went down in pain after making his running layup, hook shot to ice the game with 37 seconds left as Usman Garuba landed on his ankle. But after being helped to the locker room by the training staff, Tyrese Haliburton, who finished with 19 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, told Lloyd Pierce that he was “okay” though Pierce noted that they all say that and that he is icing his ankle. Fingers crossed it’s just a short-term ankle sprain. Haliburton went straight to Twitter to ease any fears of a long term injury.
1. The Comeback Kids
This was the third straight comeback from a big first half deficit for the Pacers. They trailed by 15 against the Raptors, 13 against the Hornets, and 20 tonight against the Rockets. They also had a fourth comeback earlier in the season when they came back from being down 14 against the Pistons. Lloyd Pierce credited the team’s chemistry with each other for why they’ve been so good at fighting back this season.
“As a group, they really like each other. So when we get in those moments of adversity, the huddles are great,” Pierce told reporters. “… The guys are really good at communicating with each other. He credited all of the team’s veterans and leaders in James Johnson, Myles Turner, and Buddy Hield along with the special positivity that Tyrese Haliburton brings to rally the group.
The vibes are clearly vastly different from the past couple of years and though last year’s team started the year with expectations they never made it to .500 the entire season, let alone two games above .500. As Jeremiah Johnson noted on the broadcast they also won their 4th-road game of the year on November 18th. Last year, that didn’t happen until mid-January. They’ve now won five of their last six games and in the only loss in the stretch, they were the ones that lost a giant lead. Pending the remaining games from tonight, they are now 5th in the Eastern Conference with two games coming against the Banchero-less Orlando Magic.
The more wins this young team racks up early, the more confidence they’ll gain. And if they keep winning, it’ll be harder for the front office to pull the plug by trading away the long-rumored veterans like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield.
2. Oshae Brissett won’t be seeing the end of the bench again any time soon.
Brissett continued his great play of late by making his first four 3-pointers of the game. It was going so well for him that he made one of those threes with help from the backboard. After starting 1 for 10 from deep this season, Brissett has gone 6 for 8 in the last two games. Brissett finished with a season-high 14 points and one steal. He joked with Jeremiah Johnson after the game about his zero rebounds and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.
The only thing I don’t want to see happen again is DNP-CD next to Brissett’s name in the boxscore.
3. Jalen Smith gobbled up rebounds like I’m prepared to gobble up my turkey at Thanksgiving
18 rebounds for Stix. He had 16 rebounds with over 6 minutes left in the third quarter. It was a monster night for Smith on the glass where he was grabbing anything that came close. He was a force inside and also finished with 10 points, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and a steal. With how gritty of a win this turned out to be after the team struggled to score, Smith’s night was as big as anyone’s. He along with Myles Turner’s increased production on the glass have been the biggest keys to this team becoming a solid rebounding team, something that the Pacers haven’t been in over a decade.
4. Myles Turner teaches a rookie a lesson in the fourth quarter
Tari Eason must not know about Myles Turner. “Better Google him” as Quinn Buckner likes to say. Eason tested the 2-time league leader in blocks multiple times and ended up blocked by Turner on three separate possessions in less than two minutes in the fourth quarter. Just to rub some salt in his wounds, Turner also hit a nasty post, baseline fadeaway as the shot clock expired against–you guessed it–Tari Eason.
Turner was dominant down the stretch and had a couple calls that didn’t go his way where he may have had five blocks in the fourth quarter alone. It was one of those games where it felt like Turner was going to prevent the opponent from getting anything near the basket. He continues his stretch of impressive play and while his double double streak ended he still scored 17 points on just 8 shot attempts as he got to the free line for another 9 attempts. He had a final line of 17 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks, and an assist.
5. Plug in Andrew Nembhard wherever and he’ll make good things happen.
While he struggled with foul trouble that limited his minutes in this one, Andrew Nembhard showed some new tricks in his repertoire while serving as screener and rolling to the basket. The incredible Caitlin Cooper wrote a great piece recently on how the Pacers guards are screening with just a simple touch recently, but tonight Nembhard screened like he was a center and rolled to the basket. After receiving the ball he set up a pair of easy baskets for the Pacers, first a 3-pointer for Bennedict Mathurin and then a dunk for Jalen Smith.
It was a role that instantly made me think of how the Brooklyn Nets used to use Bruce Brown as a small roll man that could then make plays in 4-on-3 situations if they doubled Kevin Durant or whoever the star ball handler was at the time with that group. In the Pacers case, Nembhard can take advantage whenever the defenders blitz Haliburton to get the ball out of his hands. Nembhard’s passing and just general basketball IQ continues to pop, the timing and placement of this bounce pass to Turner on the run was just beautiful (bottom of Turner’s section has this highlight at the start of that video.)
6. Buddy Hield has no shot in his dunk contest against Tyrese Haliburton.
I remain so confused as to why Buddy was the one that challenged Tyrese after practice one day to a dunk contest. Haliburton dunked twice in this one and is now up 4-0. He also attempted to murder Alperen Sengun at the rim on another dunk attempt that I didn’t know Haliburton had in him. It came on a fast break where Haliburton had some trailing options available for a pass but he instead rose up and tried to hammer it down through the Turkish big man.
7. Bennedict Mathurin’s free throws make him slump resistant
Mathurin continued his success at drawing fouls in this one and it made his night look much better than you would expect from his 4 of 14 shooting. He was able to still get 15 points after going 6 of 8 from the free throw line and his ability to get to the stripe is so helpful to avoid complete busts of a night for him when his shot isn’t falling. He also added 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals and the Pacers outscored the Rockets by 21 in his 29 minutes.