PacersrecaP #32: Mathurin’s short leash and other observations

The Indiana Pacers are now 12th in the Eastern Conference with the sixth-most losses in the league after they lost to the Miami Heat by a final score of 116-111.

Jimmy Butler put on a foul-drawing clinic in the third quarter and Bam Adebayo had an impressive array of mid-range shots go in all night in a 38-point effort. The Pacers primarily lost this game by getting dominated on the glass, losing 48-31 while giving up 15 offensive rebounds and being unable to keep up at the free throw line where the Heat made 36 of 39 and the Pacers made just 20 of 28.

With the trade deadline coming tomorrow, it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, moves Kevin Pritchard and company make. Carlisle said before Sunday’s game that he felt it was “very doubtful” in terms of him anticipating anything happening before the deadline. Pritchard didn’t sound like he was going to be super aggressive but more opportunistic if a good deal became available during the Myles Turner extension press conference.

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:

Bennedict Mathurin is starting to get an oddly short leash from Rick Carlisle

Mathurin played only 13 minutes against the Heat as he missed both of his shot attempts and finished with 2 points and 2 assists. Normally, you see Mathurin enter the game about halfway through the first quarter and he’ll stay in until around halfway through the second. Give or take a few minutes either direction. 

In this one though, Mathurin came out in the first quarter at 2:51 left immediately after he fell asleep on defense and gave up a back cut for a wide open dunk. He did come back at the start of the second and played a relatively quiet five minutes, scoring his only points after drawing a shooting foul. In the third quarter, Mathurin played just over four minutes before being taken out quickly again. This time it was immediately after his driving attempt was blocked easily and he lost the ball out of bounds. He never came back into the game after that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision,” Carlisle said after the game when asked by Indy Star’s Dustin Dopirak if there was anything about the matchup or anything Mathurin did on the floor he didn’t like. “Other guys were going good. That’s it.” 

I know Bennedict Mathurin has that dog in him, Rick, but loosen up the leash a little bit. You have to give the rookie room to make mistakes and grow on the court. Maybe I’m mistaken but it feels like Carlisle is starting to lose patience with the sixth overall pick and it’s hard not to be reminded of his treatment of Dennis Smith Jr. who he soured on about halfway through his rookie year according to this ESPN report from December 2021.

I know Mathurin’s not DSJ, he’s told Carlisle to coach him hard, and we all know what kind of confidence the sixth overall pick has. And Carlisle by all accounts wanted Mathurin in the draft unlike DSJ according to that article. It’s unlikely that a few quick pulls from a game are going to negatively impact his mentality too much and there’s plenty to be said for holding guys accountable. But it does make you wonder if the Pacers are losing sight of what this season was supposed to be about when their prized pick is getting removed from games for making rookie mistakes.

It’s a silly thing to be worried about in all likelihood when this is just the second time he’s played under 20 minutes all season and this was comment from Carlisle earlier this year: “He’s a great listener. He’s come to me three or four times and reminded me, ‘Hey, Coach, you can coach me hard. I want to be coached hard. I want the truth. I want to get better. I want to be as good as I can be,’” Carlisle told The Ringer. “These are qualities that you’re just dying to have young players present to you.”

Perspective from Dopirak on Mathurin

If the Pacers are going to make the play-in or the playoffs, it’s got to be while still giving these young players that need development time plenty of minutes with the ability to play without fear that one mistake will get them removed from the floor. It’s especially painful to see them both lose and not play the players that are paramount to the long-term success of the franchise. Mathurin, who has struggled in the four games since Haliburton returned after scoring 20 points in five straight games, is not the only one spending too much time on the bench lately.

Trade Deadline Value Boost Attempts?

Perhaps one reason that Mathurin has played just 22 minutes per game since Haliburton returned and only 13 minutes the day before the trade deadline is that the Pacers are trying to boost Buddy Hield’s trade value? He played 37 minutes against the Heat and scored 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He’s already got the second-most 3-pointers in Pacers history for a single season. 

I would bet against the Pacers trading him but it was hard not to wonder about it slightly with the strange allocation of minutes in this one. He was fantastic on offense and he’s able to get tough shots up against a tough Heat defense.

Daniel Theis was the team’s backup center for the fourth straight game since returning from his knee troubles himself. Hopefully, this stretch was an attempt at showing other team’s that he is healthy and available for a playoff team in need of center depth. It just makes zero sense for a team this far down in the standings and with so many young center options sitting on the bench for Theis to play over them. He’s better than Isaiah Jackson, Jalen Smith, Goga Bitadze, and even Terry Taylor right now but I’d rather see any of those guys get minutes over Theis. The alarm bells will sound if he continues to play over anyone on Friday.

Theis to his credit has done good things. He scored 9 points in this one while being a recipient of a few nifty passes from Haliburton. He made a nice drive to the basket that Kevin Pritchard should be rushing to send to every front office in the league.

Stray Observations:

  • Aaron Nesmith hit this beautiful baseline fadeaway that he’s hit a couple times in recent games. He struggled to find his outside shot in the last couple of games but I continue to enjoy watching him play. He’s a bit reckless with his energy on defense at times and that gets him sucked into a lot of fouls but you have to love the all-out effort he’s giving 100% of the time. He landed hard on his side after attempting to block at attempt at the rim late and went back to the locker room. Hopefully it’s nothing that keeps him out.
  • Myles Turner had his fourth straight double double since signing his extension deal. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He did with just nine shot attempts as he took 11 free throws. 
  • TJ McConnell continues to take and make 3-pointers. He hit his first two attempts from deep in this one and the Heat actually closed out and contested another possible attempt that he was then able to drive inside and score on his more standard fadeaway two in the paint. It’s been an impressive development for him to take and make those shots with confidence. He had 18 points and 6 assists in this one and his first half was the reason the Pacers were able to go from down 16 in the first quarter to up 3 at the end of the second.
  • Tyrese Haliburton finished with a double double with 10 points and 11 assists but didn’t have a great game. The Heat were focused on not letting his 43-point effort repeat itself the last time these two teams played and they kept him relatively quiet all night as he attempted just eight shots and had four turnovers.
  • Small signs of life from Chris Duarte. He had a couple nice drives to the basket in the first half. Oshae Brissett got the DNP-CD in this one that Duarte got against the Kings as Carlisle has limited the rotation to 9 guys of late.

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