The Indiana Pacers are now 4-1 after briefly falling below .500 and sit at sixth in the Eastern Conference after a highly entertaining home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers in front of the first sellout crowd of the season.
This game was perhaps the best game of the season as it was a back and forth affair with neither team ever reaching a lead of double digits and until the fourth quarter neither team led by more than six points. Both teams couldn’t miss and had impressive shot making. There were posterizations, deep threes, tempers flaring, and it came between two teams that may be developing a fun rivalry that will be fascinating to watch over the next few years.
In case you haven’t been here before, welcome to PacersrecaP where every column ends the way it began much like a Christopher Nolan film. Think of it like Tenet, confusing at first, no one knows what I’m talking about but slowly it starts to make more sense as time goes on. Or maybe I just like palindromes and couldn’t resist being clever for the sake of being clever … like a Christopher Nolan film.
Let’s get to it.
Aaron Nesmith murdered a man in front of over 17,000 people
Pacers dunk of the year. Maybe Pacers dunk of the decade to this point. I’ve watched this play a thousand times with no end in sight.
With the Pacers behind 118-119 (but unaware of that because a Buddy Hield 3-pointer had not yet been changed to a 2), Aaron Nesmith received the ball in the corner. With Evan Mobley closing out, Nesmith attacked the closeout with his left hand and took two dribbles along the baseline. Suddenly with Jarrett Allen waiting at the rim, Nesmith launched upward like he knew a secret spot on the floor that was actually a trampoline and with his head even with the rim threw it down over the arms and on the head of Allen.
It was a vicious act of violence and the looks on the faces of everyone in the arena said it all.
Both Myles Turner and Tyrese Haliburton immediately put their hands on their heads in disbelief of what Nesmith against the Cavs best defenders with Haliburton calling it the best dunk that he’s ever seen in person.
Bennedict Mathurin’s jaw dropped in pure joy and both he and Buddy Hield were hopping with posterization-fueled hype as they waited for the Cavaliers to bring the ball up. On the bench, Goga Bitadze lost his mind and Oshae Brissett looked like he was in shock.
With renewed spirit and an energized crowd, the Pacers outscored the Cavaliers 15-7 for the last 4:26 of the game with Nesmith scoring 6 points down the stretch after the dunk including a euro step layup and a tough make over the outstretched arms of Mobley on another drive to the basket.
Nicknamed Double A by his teammates for his first name, it’s fitting for the energy he plays with and provides the team. The human AA battery sent a jolt through the fieldhouse and played tremendously all game scoring 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting continuing his stellar play throughout the month of December.
Nesmith said that his teammates were on him to dunk the ball after he turned it over on a pocket pass in the lane in the first half and my goodness did Nesmith make amends and take those words to heart.
After his worst game of the month where he missed all six of his shots, Nesmith bounced back with the second-highest scoring performance of his career. He’s averaging 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in just 23 minutes per game with a true-shooting percentage of 62.8%.
Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield explode from deep
The entire Pacers team shot it lights out in this game literally from the tip as Buddy Hield set a record for fastest 3-pointer in NBA history by catching the tip and immediately turning around and shooting the 3. The previous record was also held by a Pacers player: the goat, Reggie Miller.
Hield has been a human flamethrower throughout the month of December while shooting 52.5% from deep. He’s 11 for 13 in the last two games including 5 for 6 in this one. A big bounce back month after he made just 33% of his attempts from deep in November.
Much has been made of Hield’s tireless work ethic that gets him in trouble with his family because of how much time he spends in the gym. Oshae Brissett shared that he’s started to join Hield on his early trips to the arena on road trips. If his work ethic can continue to rub off on these young guys, that’s a win for a young team developing habits at the start of their careers.
He had one stretch in the third quarter where he hit three straight triples before he handed off the hot-shooting torch to Tyrese Haliburton, who ended the quarter by making four straight attempts from deep in the last four and a half minutes. Two of the threes came in transition with pump fake passes to Hield beside him and the final coming from 30 feet to put the Pacers ahead by 3 at the start of the fourth where Haliburton pulled up before the defender could complete the switch onto him after a good screen from Bennedict Mathurin.
All told the Pacers shot 61.3% from deep with their hot shooting backcourt duo making 11 of their 14 and every starter making at least 50% of their 3-pointers. It was an outrageous shooting display.
Bennedict Mathurin put the team on his back to start the fourth quarter
The Cavaliers scored 10 straight points to start the final quarter to reach their biggest lead of the game at 7. Lloyd Pierce called a timeout with Rick Carlisle having been ejected for arguing a missed travel late in the previous quarter and didn’t rush to make any substitutions after having played most of the starters the entire third. Instead he drew up a play for rookie Bennedict Mathurin.
Mathurin scored a layup on the ensuing play after the timeout to stem the tide and continued attacking the basket on the next three possessions: drawing two fouls and missing a layup that was then tipped in by Brissett. His aggressiveness to the basket cut the Cleveland lead to 4 and forced a timeout, allowing enough breathing room for the starters to rest long to finish the fourth strong.
He ended up playing the entire fourth quarter and scored 12 of his 23 points in the quarter. Most impressive though was the leadership he showed in not only his actions but calling the team together for a huddle after drawing one of his fouls and encouraging the team to let go of a call and focus on the next play (which is a little funny coming from Mathurin who often has something to say on drives where he doesn’t earn a call but still). It was an encouraging game for the rookie beyond his efficient box score.
Mathurin’s numbers slumped over this last month of 2022 with shooting splits of 39.1/22.6/83.8 but he’s flashed some fun passes on drives as opportunities have come of late. You wonder if part of the struggle with his shot of late is if he is thinking more about whether he should be looking to pass the ball but developing more as a playmaker will be important. He’s still got a long way to go and has a tendency to try and make the passes fancier than they need to be but encouraging to see some of these plays happen.
Stray Observations over the last week:
- Myles Turner, who has opened extension negotiations with the front office according to Shams, had a season-high six blocks against the Cavaliers and had a 14/12 double double. He’s been terrific during this 4-1 stretch. The one game where he struggled against the Heat and scored just 5 points, he had a fantastic fourth quarter with great defense and scored all of his points.
- Tyrese Haliburton has been a fantastic closer lately after the team struggled to close out games in the prior week. He scored 7 straight points in the Hawks game to put them away late. He talked about how he and the coaching staff discussed what type of actions the team needs to get into during the closing possessions of games and it’s paying dividends so far.
- Oshae Brissett, the lone big wing on the roster, continues to show his importance to the group. He was +28 against the Hawks and in December he’s made 39.5% of his 3s. His extra work with Hield paying off.
- The year from hell continues for Chris Duarte, who started off the season on a major slump, finally broke through with a 30-point explosion, immediately injured his ankle in the next game, and now just a few games after returning he suffered a head injury after getting an elbow to the head against the Cavaliers and looked dazed. Hopefully, it’s not a concussion for Duarte and he can get his sophomore season on track.
- I still have rotation questions when everyone is healthy on this team and wonder how long it will be until Andrew Nembhard gets the backup point guard minutes over TJ McConnell. And while Jalen Smith is likely better served as a center, letting Isaiah Jackson rot on the bench is not great.
- I have to give a quick shout-out to NBA Top Shot again. I recently won my fourth pair of tickets of the season simply by owning a complete Pacers series set thanks to Top Shot’s team captain program and the Boom Baby Collectors group while being a local fan that can go to games. Looking forward to owning that Nesmith dunk as a digital collectible whenever it gets minted. If you’re someone that enjoys/enjoyed collecting cards, it’s a good time. Buy a starter pack for $9 (or wait for a new $10 Hot Pack drop) after signing up with this link and we’ll both get $15 in site credit. For $15, you can start your collection off with a handful of fun Pacers moments including Nembhard and Duarte rookie debuts.