The Indiana Pacers were down by 17 with 9:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. Many people likely decided it was no longer worth staying up late to watch and went to bed. Those weary faithful few, however, were rewarded with the best Pacers comeback victory yet that culminated with an Andrew Nembhard buzzer beating 3-pointer over LeBron James to give the Pacers a 116-115 win on the second night of their LA back-to-back.
It felt like the Pacers would keep climbing up to the peak but come up just short when a previous possession the Pacers had missed 3 straight chances at the rim with Nembhard missing a nifty reverse layup, Buddy Hield missing a tip in chance, and then Bennedict Mathurin also missing one. Each teetering on the rim more the last but each one falling off. To add insult to injury, the Pacers were called for a foul after the final miss and sent Anthony Davis to the free-throw line where he made just one of two and left the door open for the Pacers game winner.
With those 10 minutes left, the Pacers played hard until the buzzer sounded and the clock matched their young backcourt duo’s jersey numbers at 0:00 as Nembhard’s triple splashed through the net with the red lights on and the entire team plus Kevin Pritchard came rushing onto the court to celebrate. 8 of the Pacers 12 wins have been games that they have come back from double-digit deficits.
It was the Pacers first buzzer beater game winner since Solomon Hill had a tip in winner in Lance Stephenson’s first game in Indiana as a member of the Charlotte Hornets in 2014.
1. Welcome back, Andrew Nembhard. May you never leave us again.
What a way to return from a 5-game absence. The game winning triple will be one of the top highlights of his rookie season and perhaps his likely to be long career but he was making plays throughout the game on both ends. His quirky, yet ultra fast release to even allow him to get the shot off was a feat in itself but to splash it in, nothing but net, on the road was a thing of beauty. The most impressive aspect of his game was his defense. He spent a lot of time guarding LeBron James and even while giving up size to the all-time great, Nembhard made things tough for James, who started off with a quick 10 points but finished with just 21 points on 22 shots after he seemed less mobile once he hurt his ankle in the first quarter. Caitlin Cooper did a fantastic job as always of covering the nuances of what makes Nembhard special on the defensive end.
Nembhard was critical to the team’s success throughout the fourth as he and fellow rookie Bennedict Mathurin closed another game together. One of my favorite plays of his came as it looked like the Pacers were going to hold off on the Pacers run and had pushed the lead to 9 with 3:06 left. Myles Turner hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and then the Pacers trapped the Lakers in the corner and they passed it to Troy Brown Jr. Nembhard stole the ball away from the unsuspecting Brown as soon as it hit his hands. Nembhard pushed it ahead and the play resulted in free throws for Buddy Hield. Then after a LeBron missed layup, the Pacers quickly pushed into a transition 3-pointer for Nembhard who cut the Lakers lead to 1 with 2:11 left.
Nembhard was paramount to getting the run started when they were down 17 as he got a stop by blocking James and then was quicker to ball that everyone else on the floor to snag a rebound and a foul drawn as well. What Nembhard lacked in size in matchups with James and bigger wings, he’s able to make up for with surprising strength. His grit stands out for a team that lacks many capable defenders. After this stop, the Pacers went on a quick 10-0 run to cut the Lakers lead to 7.
Pritchard has to be feeling pretty good about nailing the first pick in the second round as evidenced by his running out on the floor like he was Jimmy V as Carlisle put it after the game. The Pacers may have two rookies on the all-rookie teams this season if this keeps up. Nembhard finished with 12 points which came from four 3-pointers.
2. Tyrese Haliburton is a basketball genius
60 points. 40 assists. 0 turnovers.
That’s the totals for Haliburton over the last three games. 40 assists and no turnovers is something that no one in the NBA has ever done before. The man is a superstar and if the Pacers can continue to win games at a decent rate, he’ll be in the All-Star game this season. He’s leading the league in assists by a mile with his per game rate 2 more assists per game than the next closest player. And he’s not racking up many turnovers with his explosion in playmaking (11.3 assists to 2.7 turnovers) and has remained very efficient on the season overall even with a recent shooting slump (47.6/38/85) to get his 19.9 points per game. Listen to his thought process on the game’s final play thanks to Jeremiah Johnson’s question.
Haliburton was extra aggressive in looking for his own shots in this one as he took 22 shots of his own, which tied for the team lead with Mathurin. He made 3 of 7 from deep and 10 of 22 overall. He had a lot of drives to the basket finished with his off hand and he made that final pass of the game with his left as well. Haliburton now leads the league in double doubles, he’s the only guard anywhere near the list with everyone else getting most of theirs with points and rebounds. His teammates enjoy his no-look assists so much they react like this.
He finished this game with 24 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds, a steal, and a block.
3. The referees seemed to have realized that Bennedict Mathurin is a rookie.
After the first 18 games of the season, Mathurin had gone to the free throw at least once in every single game for a total of 118 attempts. In the last two games, Mathurin hasn’t been to the free throw line at all. It wasn’t for a lack of aggression. Mathurin also went 10 for 22 from the field and put up 23 points. He had a quick five points that were crucial to end the third quarter including a tip in at the buzzer, scored a pair of layups that were sandwiched between a pair of Aaron Nesmith 3s in the 10-0 run that got the team started in the fourth quarter.
It was his first game against LeBron after his comments before the season that had more to do with his confidence than anything else. But LeBron didn’t show him he was better than him in this one after he tweaked his ankle. They ended with fairly similar numbers with Mathurin having a slightly more efficient night. Mathurin’s 23 points were made up of his usual array of bucket getting methods three 3-pointers (shooting 41.7% on the season from deep), timely cuts on a teammate’s drive, drives to the basket, transition chances, pull-up two at the elbow, and sprinkled in some floaters including a pair of tough ones on the baseline. While he didn’t get to the foul line in this one, his other major contribution came on the glass. He grabbed 8 rebounds including two offensive. He didn’t get credit for a rebound on the play but he also tipped the Turner miss that allowed Haliburton to gather the ball and make the game-winning play happen. He was +7 in his 32 minutes.
- Aaron Nesmith came up huge time and time again with timely 3-pointers. Pacers don’t win without Nesmith going 4 for 7 from deep and scoring 16 points. Another encouraging game from the Pacers young wing who also adds a defensive energy that while foul prone can add some athleticism for the team on that end of the court. He added four rebounds, a steal, and a block.
- Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, the long time subject of Lakers trade rumors, both struggled from deep in this one going 1 for 7 and 1 for 6 respectively, but made lots of contributions to the Pacers win. Turner finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks. Hield added 15 points and four rebounds.
- Jalen Smith was quiet on the boxscore in this score but he was part of that group that made the initial run and had a big block during it. He was one of few Pacers able to get to the free throw line in this one and went 6 for 6. He was a team-high +12 in his 24 minutes with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block. He had a tough assignment guarding LeBron to start the game that did not go well early but Stix found ways to contribute.