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.
Another week of highly entertaining Pacers basketball descended upon us over this past week with a blowout win against the Orlando Magic on Monday, a loss against the already wondering if they made a huge mistake Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, and yet another comeback victory this time against the conspiracy theorist Brooklyn Nets. 2-1 for the week and 11-7 for the year. The Pacers are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with the sixth-best record in the entire league.
In the palindrome spirit of PacersrecaP, it doesn’t matter whether I start with the first or last game (it’s W L W either way) so we’ll start with the fresh comeback against the Nets. After being down by 12 after the first quarter, the Pacers did what they do: stick together, play with more force, and end up winning the game with relative ease. This time it was the fourth quarter where the Pacers outscored the Nets 40-23 that clinched it all behind an energetic crowd that fed off the passion of their rookie star Bennedict Mathurin. If I told you the Pacers would play a game against two well-known superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and end up winning the free-throw battle 38-10 over an entire game, you’d have to think that was a typo. It’s not. The Pacers kept earning their way to the foul line by driving to the basket and the Nets kept hacking away. While the Pacers are typically a team that struggles with fouling on the other end, they only committed 11 total over the whole game. The Nets committed 28. The Nets had 19 turnovers. The Pacers had just 10. It was a dominate effort after that first quarter from Indiana who are now 2-0 when the Nets choose not to play Edmond Sumner and 0-1 when he does play. Just saying I miss Hype Train.
Wednesday’s game against the Wolves was the dud of the week. They started slow as they are prone to do and kept it interesting enough to even get the lead at one point in the second half but just couldn’t sustain anything as they couldn’t get enough stops against the long Timberwolves who shot 61.5% for the game compared to the Pacers shooting just 38.5%. It’s surprising considering the statistics that the Pacers didn’t lose this one by a greater margin than 115-101. Myles Turner did all he could to keep the team within respectable distance though with a career-best-tying seven 3-pointers and 31 points and the Wolves committed 23 turnovers.
Monday’s Magic game felt like a rough one to watch that lacked rhythm and flow for much of the game but when I looked up at the scoreboard the Pacers were up by 19 at the end of the third. That general malaise may have been influenced by me starting to feel the effects of the flu. I was at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for this one thanks to free club level tickets from NBA Top Shot’s Team Captain Program and my personal collection of Pacers Top Shot moments (get $15 site credit after buying your starter pack by signing up with this link, I’ve already won tickets to three separate games this season from the program) when I started to get the chills and generally feel gross. Turns out it wasn’t the Pacers penchant for turning the ball over (21 turnovers) and starters inability to make threes (4 for 28) that were making me feel ill. I came home and found I had a 101.5 fever and tested positive for Influenza A the next day, basically didn’t leave my bed for the 2+ days, and still feel like I just watched Tyreke Evans airball a layup approaching a week later. Fortunately, my wife and small children had their flu shots and have not gotten sick. Get those flu shots, Pacers fans, they seem be doing very, very well this year.
So that’s why this PacersrecaP will cover three games besides just one—if you were curious where I’ve been—and I’ve decided to make this a little different and go with a report card vibe but where the letters are like the points in Whose Line Is It Anyway? for the past week for each player that played in any of these games:
Tyrese HaliburtonGrade: A for All of the Accolades, All-Star, All-NBA, Assist Artist
The Indiana Pacers cannot stop winning games after being down by double digits. After tonight’s 114-113 win against the Orlando Magic after being down by as many as 10 in the first half, the Pacers completed their fourth straight comeback win and five of their nine wins have been from games in which they trailed by at least 10.
At 9-6, the Pacers now are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for 4th in the Eastern Conference and so continues the continuously surprising, exciting start to the Pacers rebuild. They’ve now won eight of their last 10 games after their 1-4 start. Their chemistry continues to be discussed as the reason they’ve been so successful in this stretch.
“We’re growing together as a group, getting better every day,” said Tyrese Haliburton after the game, “becoming closer on and off the floor. That’s allowed us to have trust in each other to play these games.”
1. The Aaron Nesmith Game
Aaron Nesmith was scoreless in three of his last four games. Tonight, he made his first four 3-pointers and scored the last 5 points for the Pacers with a clutch 3-pointer with 1:37 left that immediately matched a stepback triple from Franz Wagner that gave the Magic a brief 4-point lead and a huge contested offensive rebound with less than 10 seconds left that ended up with Nesmith earning a trip to the foul line where he buried both free throws to give the Pacers the lead for good. To cap it all off, it was Nesmith on the final play of the game who earned the stop on Wagner and clinched the game once and for all.
Before last night, Nesmith had only made 9 of 32 from deep (28%). He boosted his season average to a number closer to league average at 35% after going 5 of 8.
He finished with a career-high 19 points (previously 18 with the Celtics) and his 5 3-pointers were also a personal best. His active defense and hot shooting were the difference in this game as the Pacers outscored the Magic by 17 in his 25 minutes. The Pacers celebrated by nearly taking out his ACL as he slipped from the surprise water bottle pouring during the post-game interview. Fortunately, he was fine and laughing about it.
2. Tyrese Haliburton’s ankle is just fine
Haliburton avoided missing any time at all after the injury scare the previous night. The team repeatedly asked him over and over to make sure he was comfortable with playing tonight after they found no red flags to be concerned about with the ankle. Haliburton didn’t want to take the night off.
“In an NBA world where it’s pretty cool these days to sit out games, he did not want to hear about sitting out tonight,” Carlisle said after the game. “… He insisted on playing … All of his testing stuff was that both legs and ankles were identical. There were no red flags about him playing, but on the second night of a back-to-back, a lot of players in this league would have readily taken it off. He did not. It’s another indicator of the culture we’re building. It’s not just the staff that’s preaching it. It’s the best players. It’s a very positive thing for us.”
Based on his play, you’d never guess that he was down the previous night in clear pain, yelling expletives, and then limping to the locker room. Haliburton scored 22 points, dished out 14 assists, and had numerous big plays on defense with 3 blocks and 2 steals. There was no doubt that he was feeling just fine from the start of the game where he scored or assisted on 11 straight points for the team to get the Pacers going after starting down 10-1. By the time Haliburton hit a half-court buzzer beater at the end of the first half, he had already erased any concerns anyone may have had.
He had 10 of his 14 assists in the second half including 7 during the key run of the game where the Pacers went from down 63-70 to up 87-77 in the third quarter. Haliburton just dominated during this stretch by consistently finding holes in the defense inside or moving it to open shooters at the right time to transition trailers like when he found Nesmith for his 4th triple, a classic drive and kick like the plays he found Myles Turner and Jalen Smith, or just simply trusting his teammates like when he passed up a pull-up 2 for a Buddy Hield 3. He scored or assisted on all but 3 points in this Pacers run. The highlight of them all probably his perfectly placed alley oop to Bennedict Mathurin.
Haliburton walked into the building in this one like his detective character was going undercover with the mafia. No short film script this time but maybe Detective Tyrese II comes out soon. In the meantime, enjoy this bad photoshop.
3. Terry Taylor, small-ball 5, returns in all its glory
Also happening amidst the Pacers big 3rd quarter run was this situation. Bol Bol was making play after play and giving the Pacers defense problems, the Magic have height and length all over the floor even without Paolo Banchero, and the Pacers down three with 5:22 left in the third quarter had consistently been battling back to being within one possession but never quite getting over that hump like they were Shadow trying to climb out of that mud pit at the end of Homeward Bound just without the tears pouring out of my eyes.
The solution to the Magic’s gargantuan length? Terry Taylor, 6’5” center. After Taylor entered the game, the Pacers went on a 16-3 run to get their first lead of the game and push it all the way to 10 points before the Magic started a comeback of their own. The only points not assisted by Haliburton in that stretch mentioned in the previous section? A classic Taylor offensive rebound and putback and-1. In his 5 minutes, the Pacers were +8 and went from down 3 to up 5 at the end of the third quarter. It came at the expense of Isaiah Jackson minutes but with Oshae Brissett as the tallest player on the floor for the Pacers, but Carlisle’s move to go super small worked. It was good to see him and Brissett contribute to a positive stretch when Taylor–and Brissett until recently–have struggled to find consistent playing time.
4. 20 and 10 starting to feel like a normal game for Myles Turner
Myles Turner continued his hot play with 20 points (8 of 13), 11 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 block. It was Turner’s fifth double double in the last six games and the first game of the year where he didn’t have more than one block. The Pacers are now 7-0 when Myles Turner plays at least 26 minutes and 7-3 overall in his 10 games. 6-0 in he makes a 3-pointer. The games that the Pacers have lost since Turner returned his ankle sprain: his first game of the season where he played 24 minutes against the Bulls and struggled to find his rhythm, the post Woj Pod game against the Nets that may have been the worst game in his career, and the loss against the Nuggets were Turner sat out almost all of the third quarter with foul trouble.
In November over seven games, he’s averaged 20.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks with shooting splits of 62.3/47.4/82.6. This is the Myles Turner that fans have been hoping to see since those bright flashes in his rookie season. Caitlin Cooper with some key statistics in his improvement to begin the year:
The Pacers two-most used lineups this season are now the starting lineups of Haliburton, Turner, Hield, Smith, and one of Nembhard or Nesmith. It’s still a very small sample size but the net ratings of those groups are +15 over 80 minutes with Nembhard and +25.9 over 37 minutes with Nesmith. No one has benefited from playing with Haliburton more than Turner and that’ll likely be especially true once he gets paid this summer. He’s getting passes inside that he could only dream about over his first seven seasons with the team. It’s one thing to finally have consistent trust from his teammates and them having the ability to get him the ball in the right spots but he’s also taking major advantage of those opportunities he’s getting by finishing over mismatches, drawing fouls inside, and going up with force and dunking it when he can.
This November has been Turner’s version of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy where you see all the lessons he’s learned over the years and putting it all together to masterful effect. His driving against closeouts and spacing the floor appropriately when needed that became a skill while playing on the perimeter the past two seasons like West’s use of autotune in Runaway and Lost in the World that never happens without 808s and Heartbreak. His quick, no-time wasted, catch and put it up over the mismatch that was reminiscent of his rookie quick turnaround days in the post like Devil in a New Dress emitting that classic soul sample vibes of the early Kanye days. His blocks at the rim that lead to transition opportunities the Kanye at his best with Power and All of the Lights. 89.7% of Turner’s buckets have been assisted this year like the producers and featured artist that helped elevate West to new heights in this album.
There’s a lot of games left in this season for Turner to prove he can both stay healthy and be this good consistently. There’s still the cloud of Turner’s free agency this summer hanging over this fantastic stretch that make it unclear how long he will remain in Indiana, but it has been very satisfying to see Turner do all the things that many have been waiting, hoping, craving to see from him for a long time.
The Magic’s Bol Bol and Franz Wagner were super impressive. Wagner, who finished with 29 points, hit a couple of step-back threes late that as ridiculous as it sounds reminded me of LeBron’s overtime performance in the Fieldhouse last season where he just hit three after three to finish the Pacers off. Wagner hit one over Turner that had him shaking his head in disbelief. Magic already got their thinner version of Wemby with Bol, no need for them to win the lottery yet again.
Jalen Smith struggled with his 3-point shot (1 for 6) but he made some really nice cuts to the basket in this one and finished a couple post-ups inside to get to 14 points.
If you look at the team stats for this one they are nearly identical in many categories (all shooting percentages, field goal attempts, blocks, fouls, largest lead), but the one that decided it all: rebounding. The Pacers won the battle of the boards 42-41, the difference maker that Nesmith game-winning offensive rebound.
The Indiana Pacers are over .500. The Indiana Pacers have a winning record. The Indiana Pacers have won six of their last eight games and sit at 6th in the Eastern Conference standings. These are not things that I expected to write this season.
The Pacers (7-6) ended a 6-game losing streak in Charlotte in the regular season and made their second straight double-digit comeback to win by a final score of 125-113. The Pacers are set up to have every opportunity to continue their hot start as they have the Rockets on Friday and the Magic for two straight games after that.
1. The Pacers sliced up the Hornets’ drop coverage
The Indiana Pacers are .500 once again after defeating the Toronto Raptors by a final score of 118-104 after out-scoring them by 29 points after trailing by 15 points in opening minute of the third quarter through the end of the game.
If you missed part 1 of this palindrome-inspired column, you can find it here.
#3 Jalen Smith’s Roller Coaster start to the season
Jalen Smith’s season averages look decent for a guy playing about 24 minutes per game: 11 points and 7.6 rebounds.
But in his 12 games so far, Stix hasn’t scored 11 points in any individual game. He really hasn’t even been all that close to 11 in any single game. He’s scored 15 or more points seven times and 8 points or below five times. Just once this season has Smith scored closer than 4 points above or below his season average when he scored 8 points in the win against the Nets. It’s been quite the roller coaster of an early season for Smith.
For the entire second quarter, it felt as if the Indiana Pacers may never lose a game again as they dominated the Denver Nuggets 43-21 to take a 14-point lead into halftime. But alas, the wheels fell off for reasons to be discussed and the Nuggets came back from an 18-point lead to win by a final score of 122-119.
Despite the loss, this team continues to just bring a real joyous energy to the table. The ball moves around; they fly around the court. It’s going to take some time for these young guys to learn how to win with consistency but it’s a blast watching them learn these lessons. Let’s dive into the specifics for this one:
1. Benne. Dict. Energy.
This man is a rookie? Bennedict Mathurin has only played in 11 games?
This is the second time in his short career that his pull-up 3-pointing has made me audibly gasp and then he’ll do it another two times and my wife will have to rush into the room to make sure everything’s alright.
The Indiana Pacers (4-5) returned home to the fieldhouse after three days off with a win over the Miami Heat (4-6) by a final score of 101-99.
The Pacers defense played well as they held the Heat to shooting just 38.3% overall and 28.2% from deep. It was a schedule win if there ever was one with the Pacers well-rested and the Heat coming off of a tight win the previous night against the Sacramento Kings and sitting Jimmy Butler out. As was said in ages past: Beat the Heat.
The offensive attack was well spread out: Buddy Hield with 25, Bennedict Mathurin with 23, Tyrese Haliburton with 22, and Myles Turner with 16 led the way. A balance even Thanos would be proud of.
1. Bennedict Mathurin lives at the free-throw line
In case this is your first time here or you forgot because it’s been years since I’ve put one of these out, here’s the concept of This Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: I find an interesting picture from the history of the Indiana Pacers whether from their ABA glory or the more modern era and then take the cliché literally and write at least 1,000 words inspired by the photo.
In the past in this column, I’ve covered the five stages grief of Knicks fans captured in a single moment against Reggie Miller, that game the Pacers played with only six active players the day after the infamous brawl, and a few other things. You can see all the past columns here. Let the word count begin:
Today, we talk about Pacers legend Danny Granger and the iconic picture—taken by Robert Duyos of the Sun Sentinel—of him towering over LeBron James like he’s Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston.
As the 50th overall draft pick, the Indiana Pacers rookie Alize Johnson has an uphill climb to make an impact on an NBA roster.
That’s nothing new for him. He’s been the overlooked underdog throughout his high school and college career. His story of small high-school guard as a freshman to junior college to Missouri State is well known by Pacers fans by now.
“I have to do things different,” Johnson said before Summer League play. “Being the underdog I have to show some things that I can do consistently. Rebounding is effort. I’m all about hard work and getting into the gyms. Not really being the most athletic person, but just having the grit to go up there every time and get it is something that’s still in my blood. I have siblings back home and a family rooting for me, so when I’m up there grabbing rebounds, that’s what I’m doing it for.”
If you watched him play in Summer League, you were likely to get at least a little caught up in the Alize hype as his high-motor rebounding was on full display and his ability to start the fastbreak was a highlight of the Pacers play in Las Vegas.
Rookie @AlizeJohnson averaged 12.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in five games in the 2018 NBA Summer League.
“When you’re picking that deep in the draft, the likelihood of that player succeeding, the percentages are certainly working against him,” Pacers GM Chad Buchanan said after the draft, “so you look for like one trait or one skill that a guy possesses that would give him a chance. And Alize has two things for me; he has tremendous motor, and he just has an innate ability to track down rebounds.”
Victor Oladipo is making his media rounds lately and appeared on ESPN’s morning show Get Up! to talk about a variety of topics including being traded twice, about the state of the Eastern Conference after LeBron James decided to go to Los Angeles and about that missed goaltending call in the playoffs.
Michelle Beadle, one of the hosts of the show, wanted to know what players in the East felt like when James, who has dominated the conference, decided to go to a Western Conference team.
“When I first heard about it, I was a little upset,” said Oladipo. “I like playing against the best player in the world and competing against him and seeing where you’re at.”