PacersrecaP #22-24: Andrew Nembhard is not normal

No, that wasn’t a dream. Andrew Nembhard really did all that against the defending NBA champions.

This entire road trip for the Indiana Pacers could have been nothing but painful blowout losses if not for a particular second-round rookie. In the Pacers two wins over their last six games, Andrew Nembhard has been the difference maker in both. First, he hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer against the Los Angeles Lakers to finish off the 17-point fourth quarter comeback for Indiana’s 1-point win. Then, with the Pacers missing Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, and others against the Golden State Warriors, Nembhard stepped up with the game of his life: 31 points, 13 assists, and 8 rebounds as he stunned everyone that stayed up late for the second straight Monday night.

Among the stunned were the professionals paid to play the game or broadcast it:

  • After his final 3 that saw him nearly drop Steph Curry to the ground before taking a stepback, Curry immediately turned around to look at Nembhard in complete disbelief, shaking his head.
  • Pacers TV broadcast legend Quinn Buckner was giddy and laughing at every Nembhard moment unable to contain the joy that comes from a rookie making play after play on the road down the stretch of the fourth quarter. I imagined this to be his face after each play.
You can hear Quinn’s giggles in all the second half highlights below.
  • Mark Boyle on the radio broadcast had a moment on that same stepback triple that can only be described as an out-of-body experience where he temporarily lost the ability to speak before post-Nembhard clarity set in and he plainly stated, “No, no, that didn’t happen … I am seeing this in real time and in person, and I’m not sure I believe what Nembhard is doing tonight.”

Nembhard scored 18 of his 31 points after halftime and did it all for the Pacers. He played all but two and a half minutes in the second half where the Pacers went from up eight points to down by one the possession he came back in after emergency backup point guard Trevelin Queen turned the ball over before coming out. After returning at 9:31, Nembhard scored or assisted on every Pacers basket the rest of the game. He moved the ball when necessary, hit huge shots at every needed moment including a stepback two against Jonathan Kuminga, a pair of deep triples, an alley oop that Isaiah Jackson into the stratosphere to retrieve and dunk it, and a running floater. 17 straight points over a 7-minute stretch was all Nembhard making my jaw drop more and more until I was on the floor struggling to see the television screen. Mathurin’s made free throws in the last couple minutes were the only points that Nembhard didn’t have a hand in after returning.

“It was amazing,” Jalen Smith, who added 15 points (6 of 8) and 9 rebounds, said after the game. “I mean for him to be a rookie and in a big-time spot like that to control the offense like that and control the team, it showed a lot. We are just grateful to have him, you know obviously we had T.J. out sick and Ty hurt … for him to step up like that is big time.”

He did all of that while also playing fantastic defense and drew a pair of charges in the fourth quarter and was part of a team effort that held Curry to a 3-of-17 shooting night with just 12 points. Nembhard was a game-high +16 while going 5 for 7 from deep in his career-best performance that surpasses anything he ever did on a college court over his four years as well.

Carlisle has praised the front office multiple times now for nailing the first pick of the second round in Nembhard and said the rookie guard may go in the top 10 of his draft class in a potential redraft in a few years.

“They just hit it out of the park with him,” Carlisle said of Kevin Pritchard and the front office’s selection of Nembhard, who now leads the team in scoring on the road trip with 15.5 points per game. “This guy has got amazing poise, he’s strong, he’s old school but new school, he’s special.”

Every other game during this neverending trip has seen the Pacers lose by double digits and with multiple starters and rotation players out, it felt like that was the likely scenario against the Warriors as the Pacers were playing on the second night of a back to back with three rookies during most of the first quarter in Nembhard, Bennedict Mathurin, and Kendall Brown. Instead the Pacers, who are the worst first quarter team in the league, led the Warriors 34-21 at the end of the first quarter.

Nembhard followed up his career high of 16 points in his first game replacing Tyrese Haliburton at the lead guard by nearly doubling it with 31. For the season, Nembhard has shooting splits of 48.5/42.9/90.9 while averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 assists in 23.8 minutes per game.

Stray Observations:

  • Bennedict Mathurin hits a rookie wall? The Pacers more celebrated rookie to this point of the season has struggled throughout the road trip. He’s now gone four straight games without a made 3-pointer after only having one such game in the first 19 games of the season. On the road trip, Mathurin is shooting 35.2% from the floor overall and just 16.7% from deep. He seems to bounce back and forth between being treated like a rookie and like an All Star by the referees at the rim, a very odd feast or famine where he gets to the line for at least 8 attempts, which has happened in 3 games on this trip, or 0 attempts, which has happened on the team’s other 3 games on this trip to this point. He went 4 for 16 in his first career start against the Warriors including 0 for 6 from deep but did still score 14 points with the help of 8 free throw attempts.
  • This team is now 5-0 on the second night of a back to back. Huh? I don’t have anything to add to this other than confusion.
  • Concerning statistics from the road trip: Pacers have a -10 net rating, the 29th-best rebound percentage in the league at 46.3% and the 29th-best true-shooting percentage at 52.5% in the league during the timeframe of this trip. It has been a struggle. The team had made rebounding a surprise strength early in the season but it has fallen off a cliff and the team has gone through a cold shooting spell during this trip as teams have made adjustments for how they want to defend the Pacers fast-paced offense by putting long wing defenders on Tyrese Haliburton and cross-matching centers onto Jalen Smith and forwards onto Myles Turner.
  • The Pacers played two bigger wings at once! They only really have two on the roster in Oshae Brissett and Kendall Brown but they both saw a lot of playing time together against the Warriors. Brissett played fantastic with 14 points and 8 rebounds including a perfect first half at 4 for 4. It continues to baffle me how far he was buried in the depth chart to start this season. Brown in his first rotation minutes of the season was the first player off the Pacers bench and added 3 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. 
  • Tyrese Haliburton’s road struggles: Haliburton has had a rough road trip as well, dealing with the emotion of playing in Sacramento for the first time as a member of the road team and then probably playing a game that he should have sat out with the sore groin injury that kept him out of both sides of the back to back. Haliburton shot just 37.3% from the floor overall and 33.3% from deep during the trip’s first four games and only 40% from the free throw line on limited attempts. That being said, he still started this road trip with 35 assists in the first three games with only two turnovers even while struggling with his own shot. In the Jazz game, he had just 4 assists.
  • I haven’t written anything about that Jazz game really but that was a rough watch. The Jazz won 139-119 outside of Nembhard’s 13 points and 10 assists. They just couldn’t stop anyone. Walker Kessler walked all over them with 20 and 11 on 7 of 7 shooting. As a team they made 55.4% of their shots against the Pacers defense and 44.1% of their threes. 
  • The Blazers game may have been even worse. It’s hard to pick the worst of the games from the road trip between the Clippers, Jazz, and Blazers games. The minutes were the Pacers attempted to play James Johnson at the point guard gave me painful flashbacks to Brad Wanamaker trying to run the offense at times to start last season. Trevelin Queen thankfully was adequate as an emergency point guard for the most part and quietly did some good things despite his box score not showing much in terms of counting stats. I’m still intrigued by last season’s G-League MVP.

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