PacersrecaP #16-18: Report Cards for Pacers games against the Magic, Wolves, and Nets

Another week of highly entertaining Pacers basketball descended upon us over this past week with a blowout win against the Orlando Magic on Monday, a loss against the already wondering if they made a huge mistake Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, and yet another comeback victory this time against the conspiracy theorist Brooklyn Nets. 2-1 for the week and 11-7 for the year. The Pacers are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with the sixth-best record in the entire league.

In the palindrome spirit of PacersrecaP, it doesn’t matter whether I start with the first or last game (it’s W L W either way) so we’ll start with the fresh comeback against the Nets. After being down by 12 after the first quarter, the Pacers did what they do: stick together, play with more force, and end up winning the game with relative ease. This time it was the fourth quarter where the Pacers outscored the Nets 40-23 that clinched it all behind an energetic crowd that fed off the passion of their rookie star Bennedict Mathurin. If I told you the Pacers would play a game against two well-known superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and end up winning the free-throw battle 38-10 over an entire game, you’d have to think that was a typo. It’s not. The Pacers kept earning their way to the foul line by driving to the basket and the Nets kept hacking away. While the Pacers are typically a team that struggles with fouling on the other end, they only committed 11 total over the whole game. The Nets committed 28. The Nets had 19 turnovers. The Pacers had just 10. It was a dominate effort after that first quarter from Indiana who are now 2-0 when the Nets choose not to play Edmond Sumner and 0-1 when he does play. Just saying I miss Hype Train.

Wednesday’s game against the Wolves was the dud of the week. They started slow as they are prone to do and kept it interesting enough to even get the lead at one point in the second half but just couldn’t sustain anything as they couldn’t get enough stops against the long Timberwolves who shot 61.5% for the game compared to the Pacers shooting just 38.5%. It’s surprising considering the statistics that the Pacers didn’t lose this one by a greater margin than 115-101. Myles Turner did all he could to keep the team within respectable distance though with a career-best-tying seven 3-pointers and 31 points and the Wolves committed 23 turnovers. 

Monday’s Magic game felt like a rough one to watch that lacked rhythm and flow for much of the game but when I looked up at the scoreboard the Pacers were up by 19 at the end of the third. That general malaise may have been influenced by me starting to feel the effects of the flu. I was at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for this one thanks to free club level tickets from NBA Top Shot’s Team Captain Program and my personal collection of Pacers Top Shot moments (get $15 site credit after buying your starter pack by signing up with this link, I’ve already won tickets to three separate games this season from the program) when I started to get the chills and generally feel gross. Turns out it wasn’t the Pacers penchant for turning the ball over (21 turnovers) and starters inability to make threes (4 for 28) that were making me feel ill. I came home and found I had a 101.5 fever and tested positive for Influenza A the next day, basically didn’t leave my bed for the 2+ days, and still feel like I just watched Tyreke Evans airball a layup approaching a week later. Fortunately, my wife and small children had their flu shots and have not gotten sick. Get those flu shots, Pacers fans, they seem be doing very, very well this year.

So that’s why this PacersrecaP will cover three games besides just one—if you were curious where I’ve been—and I’ve decided to make this a little different and go with a report card vibe but where the letters are like the points in Whose Line Is It Anyway? for the past week for each player that played in any of these games:

Tyrese Haliburton Grade: A for All of the Accolades, All-Star, All-NBA, Assist Artist

Fresh off of his first career player of the week honor, Tyrese Haliburton had games with 18 points and 14 assists, 10 points and 14 assists, 21 points and 15 assists. No Pacers assist record is safe from Haliburton who feels sure to rewrite the record books as the team’s best point guard ever already at just 22 years old. The only one that might give him trouble is fellow Iowa State Cyclone Jamaal Tinsley’s 23 assists in a single game from his rookie season.

The game against the Nets was Haliburton’s best of the week as he had zero turnovers and four steals but you could probably make an argument for the 18/14 game against the Magic that was done in only 3 quarters but he had an unusual 7 turnovers in that one. Haliburton put up those stats while making just 4 of 18 from deep in the three games as he struggled to find his rhythm from deep. Jaden McDaniels gave him fits in the Wolves game and threw him off his rhythm from the tip but blocking a couple of his shots early. Teams that have long wing defenders will be more and more likely to make them the primary defender of Haliburton after that one.

Myles Turner Grade: E for Extension please

At some point with how well Myles Turner has fit with this young group and how much the team has been winning, the front office has to ask themselves if they are going to find anyone better than Turner to fill that center spot in the next few seasons and then figure out how much they are willing to offer to keep Turner off the market next summer. All indications are that Turner wants to test free agency having never been in that situation in his career and it’s easy to see how putting himself in control of the business side of things is appealing to him after the nonstop trade rumors over the past few seasons but you’d have to think a renegotiation and extension would be tempting at minimum for Myles. This rarely used scenario could have the Pacers use their current cap space and give Turner a substantial raise this season and extend him at a more reasonable rate in the following seasons.

Turner started the week slow with just 10 points and 5 rebounds as the bench dominated the Magic but then tied a career high with 7 3s against the Wolves and his second 30+ points night of the year highlighted by one his best poster dunks and then went 9 for 11 against the Nets as he dominated inside with 23 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and a team-high +26. 

Pacers have gone 8-2 in November with Turner averaging 20.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and leading the league in blocks yet again over 10 games. His shooting splits are 63.2/52.9/83.3 over this timespan and while those are likely to come down it’s hard to see a return to the 12 and 7 days while he’s playing with this group. He’s obviously never played with anyone like Haliburton but everyone on the team trusts him to make the right play inside and that trust has built Turner’s confidence further while on the court. 

The renegotiation and extension has its risks, Turner still needs to prove he can stay healthy over a full season after missing large amounts of games to end the last two years. But if Turner, who just switched agents in prep for his big payday this summer, isn’t interested in even the renegotiation and extension that could allow him to lock in not just huge amounts of money this season but also a large bag of additional years, that’s probably enough for the front office to decide that Turner is likely ready to move on from Indiana.

Bennedict Mathurin Grade: C for Confidence, Consistently Collecting Buckets, Contagious Passion

The Pacers burgeoning star continues to impress. He finished each of the week’s games with over 20 points (22, 21, and 20 in order). He continues to get to the free throw line at absurd rates with 31 attempts over these three games to up his season average to 7.4 attempts per game.

His best of the week was the fourth quarter against the Nets. He entered the quarter with just four points and had struggled to get much going to that point. With 10:21 left, Mathurin tied the game with a 3-pointer and with 8:53 left Mathurin hit another 3 to give the Pacers the lead. A combination of the moment and his earlier in game struggles had Mathurin incredibly pumped which seemed to fuel the crowd even further which propelled the team to that 40-23 quarter and easy win.

He followed the pair of 3-pointers with a pair of transition buckets off of steals to make it 10 straight points scored for the team. Altogether, Mathurin scored 16 points in the 4th and gave us this iconic look in his eye moment that captures his competitive spirit. 

Buddy Hield Grade: C for Cold Streak to Ice Cold Killer

Buddy Hield started the week cold going just 1 for 10 from 3 with Haliburton joking that he could have had more than 14 assists if he made more of those looks. Then he went 3 for 11 against the Timberwolves and against the Nets he was back to his flamethrower ways at 5 for 8 and had a team high 26 points. Hield’s spacing and cutting has been paramount to the team’s fantastic offense all year. While taking 9.9 attempts from deep per game, Hield is shooting 38.8% while making nearly 4 triples per game. 

The highlight of the week though came from his post-game press conference where Myles Turner called his answer about returning to Sacramento over the upcoming road trip professional but “he won’t say how he really feels.” Buddy’s laugh that followed said enough about Hield’s likely true feelings about his former franchise.

TJ McConnell Grade: 3 for Three 3s in a single game???

McConnell can legally change his name to 3J after the Magic game where he hit three 3-pointers to the delight of the home crowd. It was McConnell’s best game of the season and one of his best with Indiana as he finished with 19 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. His only miss in 8 shot attempts came on a fourth 3-pointer that may have been a sign of the apocalypse if it went in. Those 3 makes from deep are all of his 3-pointers he has made this season. 

Oshae Brissett Grade L for Logo

The Magic game was the bench game so another focus on the beginning of the week here. Oshae Brissett has finally earned his rightful place in the rotation and against the Magic he scored a season-high 18 points. He capped it off with a deep triple with his feet just in front of the logo and was fouled.

Brissett drew a pair of flagrant fouls on dangerous closeouts from Magic players where they got their feet way too far in his landing space. This one ended in one of those classic moments that will live on like the Cory Joseph steal and everybody rush to pick him up moment from the last great vibes season of 2017-18. 

Jalen Smith Grade: M for Missing Jump Shot

Stix just can’t find his outside shot. He has made just 2 of his last 23 attempts from 3 in his last six games including 1 for 11 in the 3 games that are our focus here. The cold spell has dropped his average percentage all the way down to 25% on the season. He’s still doing some decent things with cutting, finishing inside, and rebounding but without his shot cooperating his hold on that starting four spot may start to be in question especially if teams start to ignore him outside and it mucks up the Pacers spacing. With how well the rest of the starters are shooting and how fast the team likes to play, it may mitigate some of those issues but he’s down to just 22.5 minutes per game in his last 10 and those may continue to dwindle as others play well.

Isaiah Jackson Grade U for Undefeated

Isaiah Jackson played in just two games this week and the Pacers won both of those games. Against the Magic he went 5 for 5 with 10 points. Speaking of that starting 4 spot, while I don’t necessarily want Jackson to start there, it would still be beneficial to see at least some minutes of Jackson and Turner playing together. Not just for that particular pairing but to see more of what you in have Jackson as a potential 4. The front office claimed they saw him as more than just a center potentially but we haven’t him play much there so far in his career.

James Johnson Grade V for Veteran Presence

James Johnson continues to get a lot of credit for being a needed veteran voice in the locker room. Even though he only plays against the Brooklyn Nets, he’s made an impact by staying on guys in huddles and encouraging that positive energy from the bench. 

Aaron Nesmith Grade S for Showing signs

Nesmith has been back in the starting lineup with Andrew Nembhard out with injury and had an up and down week. He continues to show signs of an NBA caliber wing. His shooting comes and goes at 32% from deep on the season but his consistent effort and energy on defense has helped this team. He’s one of the more capable perimeter defenders in scramble situations on the roster, makes good closeouts, and helps the team on that end. 

Terry Taylor Grade: B for back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back

Terry Taylor had a game for either the Pacers or the Mad Ants for like 5 days straight from Saturday to Wednesday. That just needs recognized. Taylor played just 7 minutes in the games against the Magic and Wolves as he’s outside of the Pacers crowded rotation currently but he put up 29 points and 18 rebounds in one of his games with the G-League team.

Goga Bitadze Grade: S for Stocks

Stocks as in steals and blocks though Bitadze may be a day trader on the market buying low and selling high in between his self-proclaimed efficient Lego runs for all I know. Bitadze had 3 blocks and 2 steals in his 15 minutes against the Wolves and the Pacers actually won his minutes by one point. Bitadze has mostly been solid this season when needed but as been the case for his entire career, there’s just no path to consistent minutes for the Georgian big man.


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