PacersrecaP #31: The backup big conundrum and Myles Turner’s stellar play

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Pacers fell to 25-30 after getting blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night. They now sit a half game out of 10th and the final play-in spot and tied with the Toronto Raptors for the league’s sixth-worst record.

The good news these last three games is that Tyrese Haliburton is back. The bad news is that the Pacers are still in a tough stretch of their schedule and continue to slide down the standings as they won just one of three games in the last four nights. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in the long run but it’s a far fall from the 23-18 record the Pacers had before Haliburton went down with an injury.

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.

In reality, this column tries to highlight the standout events, performances, and whatever else catches my eye in hopefully a fun and creative way. Let’s get to it:

Myles Turner living up to his contract extension

Since the extension became official, Myles Turner has rattled off three straight double doubles with averages of 17 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 1.5 steals per game. Against the Cavaliers, he did everything he could to keep the Pacers close by scoring 27 points in only 24 minutes. The Pacers were down just two when he left the floor with foul trouble with 5:44 left in the second quarter. By halftime, the Pacers were down 16.

He scored 15 points in the third quarter alone with an array of 3-pointers and aggressive drives to the basket but the Pacers just couldn’t string together many stops or find offense outside of their big man often enough throughout the entire second half.

“It’s a testament to the film studies and the work I put into it on the floor,” Turner said of his strong play lately. “I think it’s a testament to the trust and belief that my teammates have in me and putting me in good positions to be successful. Overall I think I’ve just been more aggressive.”

Against the Kings, he went toe-to-toe with the other half of the old Turbonis duo with a line of 14 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. Turner’s defense was the difference maker in a game where the Pacers won by three despite not scoring themselves in the final 2:55 of the game. Before the tip off, Turner and Domas Sabonis embraced briefly and Turner said after the game that Sabonis would always be a friend.

He showed the Lakers what they’ll continue to be missing with 20 points and 13 rebounds and to wrap up this homestand he also passed Herb Williams for third on the Pacers all-time blocks leaderboard with 1,095 career blocks. He’s now only 16 blocks behind Rik Smits for 2nd and 150 blocks behind Jermaine O’Neal’s team record of 1,245. While he’ll likely pass Smits in the next month, it’ll probably not be until next season that Turner has his chance at passing up O’Neal.

Daniel Theis showcase continues

For the third straight game, Daniel Theis was the team’s backup center as he continues to play over the Pacers younger options in Isaiah Jackson and Jalen Smith. With the trade deadline approaching, this will only be truly weird if it continues after Thursday when the deadline has passed. He’s doing his best to showcase what he can bring to a team, he’s hit a 3, finished some plays inside, even had a nice driving dunk against the Cavaliers, and he’s probably the best screener on the team. 

Please tell some league executives were very impressed with this play.

“He’s just a vet, man. Solid,” Myles Turner said of what Theis brings to the team. “He’s been to the Finals, been on some good teams, and he brings that experience to this roster.” 

Rick Carlisle talked a lot about the Pacers backup big conundrum before the game against Cleveland. 

“In the case of Theis, we need to find out what kind of player he is for us,’ Carlisle noted. “… We need to find out what he can do with our personnel and from there you know we’ll see where it all goes. I’ve consistently told all of our guys (Isaiah, Jalen, Goga, Terry) that they need to be ready. It’ll all be worked out in time. We’re just going day to day with it.”

Carlisle called all three of the guys that have been fighting for those minutes lately–Jackson, Smith, and Theis–”damn good players that all bring a different dynamic to our rotation.”

Jackson, who did this against the Lakers on Thursday while getting the backup minutes in the second half, certainly brings something the other two can’t. It’s malpractice for a rebuilding team to not find some minutes to get this guy on the court. 

Smith was the Pacers prize in free agency when they were surprised to be able to keep him with contract limitations but he’s been unable to find his shooting stroke that made him an intriguing player in the last half of the previous season as he’s only made 28% of his 3-pointers. He’s struggled so much that 538’s RAPTOR has Smith as the third-worst player in the NBA that’s played over 600 minutes (278 of 280). It has not been pretty for Smith in his second season in Indiana but even so you’d rather see if Smith can figure things out as a young prospect than play a win now veteran like Theis. But this won’t be overly concerning until it continues past the deadline.

Stray Observations:

  • Tyrese Haliburton just casually comes back and immediately is averaging 18 and 10.5 assists. The Kings continue to defend him as good as anyone by never letting him go right but it’s mostly just fantastic to watch him play basketball again. He makes such a big difference in the performance and excitement that comes from watching the Pacers play.
  • Chris DNP-CD Duarte didn’t play for the second straight game on Sunday but this time it was ankle soreness that flared up during a workout on Saturday. Carlisle said that he doesn’t expect that it will be a long-term injury and his only comment on him not playing against the Kings: “coach’s decision.” It’s unfortunate that the Pacers have reached a point where neither of their 2021 first-round picks are playing in the rotation now.
  • Aaron Nesmith struggled in the Cavaliers game with his shot but he continues to impress and look like a long-term piece for Indiana. He set a career-high for the third time this season with 24 points against the Lakers and followed that up with 17 points against the Kings. 
  • Bennedict Mathurin had a string of 20-point performances before these three games and has struggled to find his rhythm a bit in the games since. The up and down nature kind of expected for a rookie and with Nesmith playing well offensively while being a much better defender at this stage in his career, he’s been closing some of these recent games over Mathurin.



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