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Choose Your Own Adventure: 2023 Indiana Pacers Trade Deadline

The Indiana Pacers have some decisions to make as they approach the trade deadline. One of these decisions has already been made as the Pacers re-signed Myles Turner to a 2-year extension. Would you have done the same? What would you do next? You never know how things could end up. The options will branch out in endless possibilities so why don’t you test a few of them out and see what happens? This is Choose Your Own Adventure: 2023 Indiana Pacers Trade Deadline Edition.

You are Kevin Pritchard, president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers. It’s your choice to decide what to do with the roster as the Pacers sit at 24-27 with nine losses in their last 10 games and waiting for soon-to-be-All-Star Tyrese Haliburton to return from injury.

With the trade deadline two weeks away, you have a meeting scheduled with franchise owner Herb Simon to discuss how you’ll be approaching the deadline.

The choices you decide to make will affect the outlook of your franchise for now and years to come. Luck comes into play too; some endings will be more common than others while others will be incredibly rare. Can you get the Pacers to the mountaintop? Start with your first choice below.

Continue your trade deadline adventure by clicking the link of your choice:

With the trade deadline approaching, the Pacers must choose a path

The Indiana Pacers miss Tyrese Haliburton desperately. They’ve now lost seven straight games since his injury and have gone from being 23-18 and feeling pretty good at 6th in the conference standings to 23-25 and just a half game ahead of the 10th seed.

Your fortunes can change so quickly in the NBA.

With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, that puts the Pacers at three wins behind the Miami Heat for 6th in the conference and three wins ahead of both the Wizards and Raptors who sit outside the play-in and in the lottery. Thus, Kevin Pritchard and the front office find themselves at a decision point in this choose-your-own-adventure season that’s only going to become more critical if the losing streak continues:

  • Option 1: Stay the course with the team as is. Hope that Haliburton’s return gets the team back on track and in position to make the playoffs and gain valuable experience for a young team.
  • Option 2: Look to upgrade the roster in some way at the deadline to gain players that fit the long-term vision of the team and help push for the playoffs now, utilizing the three 2023 first-rounders and players on the roster stuck in the logjam of smaller wings and centers that could do better with a change of scenery.
  • Option 3: Take this losing streak without Haliburton as a sign that the veterans on this team aren’t part of the long-term future to becoming a contender if they can’t even beat the Suns backups without him. Trade away some of those veterans on the roster for future draft capital and/or young prospects and give even more minutes to the youth currently on the team.
It’s a good thing I don’t run the Pacers because I’m like Chidi in The Good Place when it comes to making a choice.

Perhaps the most concerning part of these losses that are piling up like the dishes in my sink is many of these teams they have faced during this streak have been short-handed. The Bucks played without Giannis; the Nuggets played without Jokic; the Suns were without Booker, Paul, and Ayton. The statistics don’t put any positive spin on the losses. In the last six games, the Pacers are 30th in the league in net rating (-13.9), true-shooting percentage (52.7%), and turnovers per game (18). The struggle is real and most of these games have been hard to get through.

Buddy Hield has struggled to find consistent looks with increased defensive attention. Andrew Nembhard has hit the rookie wall hard. Chris Duarte is just starting to break out of the slump of his life. Myles Turner missed the start of this losing streak but has clearly missed Haliburton’s ability to consistently get him the ball in the paint after switches. Everyone on the team besides TJ McConnell is finding life much harder without the Pacers star. Haliburton did provide an update on his injured knee and elbow recently that he’s aiming to be back at the start of February, so he’ll still be out for at least the next four games against the Bulls, Magic, Bucks, and Grizzlies.

With all of these possible paths to take, I’m aware that it isn’t quite that simple. The front office is surely always open to option two if the right deal comes along whether or not it helps their playoff push for this season. The flaw in the logic of option three could be that while the veterans on the roster can’t lead the team to wins right now, it doesn’t mean that a younger player on the roster like Bennedict Mathurin couldn’t evolve in a year or two to be the secondary closer, change the hierarchy of the roster, and allow those veterans to not need to step up as much as they need to currently when Haliburton is out. They could also do the trade a ton of picks for a second star thing that so many teams have done in recent years this summer which could have the same effect as a Mathurin leap.

Options one and three are murky when it comes to Myles Turner, whose future with the team comes down to his extension talks with the organization. If the front office wants to keep the team together, it doesn’t matter if they can’t come to terms with their center to avoid losing him for nothing in free agency. They’ll likely have to move him. And if they can agree to terms, that doesn’t necessarily take the third option off the table as Turner is young enough to fit the timeline of the rest of the roster while they could still look to move players like Hield and McConnell.

Yes, there’s a fourth option I didn’t include. They could do the short-term buy a veteran for a single year playoff push but I think we can all agree that’s a terrible idea, right?

Answer to the question of should the Pacers trade for veteran rentals like Eric Gordon.

If they do decide to make dramatic changes to the team, it’s imperative that Tyrese is at least aware and hopefully on board with the direction. You don’t want to start your relationship with the star of your team by getting rid of players he likes and wants to play with, but you also have to do what you feel is best for the franchise long term. Taking away a chance to make the playoffs for the first time may be hard to swallow for Haliburton initially. While that may raise the pressure for the Pacers, they do have a lot of time to build a winning team around their budding star and culture setter still on his rookie contract.

You could make an argument that this team could make the playoffs as-is with how they looked just a few weeks ago, and that playoff experience would be just as valuable as another high lottery pick. It’s also clear that it wouldn’t take much to continue to slide down the standings, and that this draft is packed with the exact types of forwards the team has long been lacking. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to fall all the way to 6th to 8th worst in the league with decent lottery odds.

But where they stand currently at 9th or 10th in the play-in tournament is probably the worst place the Pacers could finish this season in terms of the long-term prospects of the team. Whatever path Kevin Pritchard and company decide to take, I’ll be hoping they move dramatically in one direction or the other in the standings.

My guy Olmec to KP

Bennedict Mathurin, the antagonist, a win streak, and secret conversations: PacersrecaP #30

In another battle against a team full of large wings, the Indiana Pacers came away saying, “Who needs wings anyway?” as they collected their fourth straight win and sixth in their last seven with a 122-114 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

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 a glorious antagonist

Mathurin led the Pacers in scoring with 21 points and was a team-high +21 on the night where the bench units were the decisive factor in the victory. But better than the efficient night from the floor than featured more free throw attempts (7 for 10) than shot attempts (6 for 9) was how he was able to get under the skin of multiple members of the Raptors organization.

OG Anunoby got a technical foul after an uncalled Fred VanVleet take foul committed against Mathurin that eventually led to Mathurin running into the former Hoosier and Anunoby grabbed his arm before pushing him away. Then after Mathurin missed the free throw, a Raptors assistant coach had a few words for Mathurin.

The Pacers rookie, a man of few words, told Jamaal Magloire to “keep that same energy.”

The Pacers were down six to the Raptors with 3:25 left in the third quarter at the time of the play. Mathurin scored 6 points including the tough triple above and another couple trips to the free-throw line in that timeframe to help the bench take a 1-point lead heading into the fourth.

Mathurin, the troll, the antagonist, the guy you hate to play against, has been a developing trend over his rookie season. It goes back to his late-game steal against college teammate Dalen Terry with the game already decided and trash-talking Jaden Ivey against the Pistons. Not to mention how frustrating it can be to play against a guy that’s good at forcing referees to call fouls (though I’m thankful he’s making basketball moves when he earns his fouls far more than the flopping whistle hunters like James Harden and Jimmy Butler). I’d imagine playing against both him and the full-court pest in TJ McConnell has to be something opponents don’t enjoy especially second units.

Caitlin Cooper recently broke down Mathurin’s pet jab step move in a way that only she can. If you haven’t read it yet, you should fix that soon.

The bench wore the overworked Raptors down

Elsewhere on the bench TJ McConnell ran circles around Malachi Flynn and scored 15 points. He attempted a career high 7 free throws (he’d taken a total of 19 in his previous 34 games this season). Jalen Smith put up a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 17 minutes.

All five played off the bench were at least +9 and none of the Pacers starters were positive in this game thanks to slow starts in both halves. The Pacers bench outscored the Raptors bench 54-7 in this game but none of the guys off the opponent’s bench played all that much either.

The Pacers bench was able to keep the starters fresh for the fourth quarter as none of the starters played more than 32 minutes. Meanwhile, the Raptors ran out of gas trying to keep up with the pace of Indiana as all of their starters played at least 36 minutes and four of them played either 39 or 40 minutes.

Raptors starters trying to catch their breath in the fourth quarter

You could see the effects on the Raptors in their 3-point attempts as they made just 4 of their 21 shots from deep in the second half—including eight misses in the fourth that all seemed to fall short. Toronto started hot by making nine of their first 15 before going ice cold. The Pacers pulled off the reverse by making just two of their first 14 3-pointers and then finishing the rest of the game by making eight of their final 13 attempts with multiple coming from the fresh legs of the starters down the stretch.

Somehow I didn’t realize until today that former Pacers head coach (New) Nate Bjorkgren (seeing his face on the broadcast on the Raptors sideline was like suddenly remembering a strange dream from your childhood) obviously got his overwork-his-best-players-with-ludicrous-amount-of-minutes philosophy from his pal Nick Nurse. It doesn’t feel like it’ll be long before Nurse becomes the new Thibs in terms of poster child for high-minute loads.

Tyrese Haliburton and OG Anunoby have a post-game conversation they’d rather not be lip read

What could they be discussing? 🤔

After the final buzzer sounded, Tyrese Haliburton and OG Anunoby dapped each other up and conversed a bit before Haliburton covered his mouth with his hands to continue the conversation and Anunoby did the same.

This is likely nothing and silly to even spend any time on at all but … after Paul George and LeBron James had numerous moments like this post-game—before George requested to be traded to only the Lakers a year before James ended up in Los Angeles as a free agent—and Victor Oladipo openly asked opponents “can come play with y’all?”—before eventually getting to the place he “always wanted to go” in Miami—it’s hard not to let the mind wander at this moment a little bit.

What topics could they be covering that they wouldn’t want others to know about? Avoiding spoilers to the White Lotus for lip reading eavesdroppers? Considerate of them but unlikely as it’s been finished for weeks now. Perhaps they bet on the loser needing to share a secret ingredient of a family recipe? Everyone knows it’s nutmeg, OG. Just let it out.

Anunoby, the IU prospect that got away in the infamous TJ Leaf draft, is the ideal wing that the Pacers are missing. A defensive monster that leads the league in steals, can guard anyone on the floor most nights, and is a very capable offensive player. He’ll also be a highly coveted free agent in the summer of 2024 if he declines his player option. Don’t get carried away but store this in the old memory bank for down the road.

If the OG could fall into the Pacers lap, you know I’d walk 1,000 miles just to see that team play.

Stray Observations

  • The Pacers were picking on Thad Young for a few possessions. Myles Turner pulled off a move that I don’t think Young ever saw his former teammate do in practice or a game before as he drove down the lane and stopped suddenly before pivoting back into an easy jumper. Young went flying by as Turner picked up his dribble. Then Haliburton got him in the air with a fake lob pass and stepped right by him for a layup. They were two beautiful plays. Turner followed his 34-point outburst against the Clippers with an 18-point, 11-rebound effort that featured a ridiculous block in transition on Gary Trent, Jr.
  • Andrew Nembhard hasn’t had to be a lead guard like he was in Golden State but having another guy that’s a really good passer on the floor has been very fun for the Pacers starting group. He only had 3 assists but each of them were highlights: a lob to Turner, a bounce pass behind the defender to Turner that even Turner wasn’t expecting him to make but was still easily able to grab the perfect pass and finish, and a patient find to a cutting Aaron Nesmith. His defense has been fantastic all season and he’s an unbelievable glue guy for a rookie.

Reflecting on a year of monumental change for the Indiana Pacers

2022 brought about a lot of change for the Indiana Pacers. That probably undersells the transformation of an overall organizational culture not just in terms of its on-court product but in trying to build its roster in ways that the team had largely avoided for over three decades.

Liz Lemon knows what I’m talking about.

Just compare how you may have been feeling after DeMar DeRozan hit a one-leg 3-pointer to beat the Pacers at the buzzer on New Year’s Eve 2021 as the team lost yet another close game in clutch time to how that one felt with Haliburton and the Pacers besting a 45-point night from George and winning in thrilling fashion. These Pacers have already won two more clutch games this season (13) than what I’ll refer to as the Injury List Era team won all of last year (11).

With all due respect to Ben Gibbard, so this is the new year, the Pacers feel very different. We’ve gone from feeling like Lieutenant Dan on NYE to feeling like Lieutenant Dan with new legs in one short trip around the Sun.

As far as the roster goes, Myles Turner is the only remaining starter from the Injury List Era. In types of trades that the Pacers have rarely done in their history, they sent out veterans primarily for draft capital. Caris LeVert was the first to be dealt which eventually netted the Pacers Andrew Nembhard as the first pick in the second round last summer and a likely first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Malcolm Brogdon was dealt in the off-season to the Boston Celtics for a first-round pick and Aaron Nesmith.

T.J. Warren and his troublesome foot that haunted him for over 2 years after his unbelievable NBA Bubble run exited to Brooklyn as a free agent. And of course, 2-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis was dealt near the trade deadline for Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. While Sabonis is doing his hub-of-the-wheel thing to perfection surrounded by a terrific cast of shooters and a speedy point guard for the Kings, Tyrese Haliburton has become the face of the franchise and its leader in every way.

There’s no moment that tops that seismic trade for best of 2022 for the Indiana Pacers. As hard as it might be to let go of a 2-time All Star in Sabonis, Haliburton was the ideal candidate if they were going to move him and he instantly–from his first moments wearing a Pacers jersey as they blitzed the Cavaliers with 40 first-quarter points–showed how he was something they haven’t ever had: a guy both capable of leading the league in assists and with enough scoring and shooting skills to be a primary option as well. Suddenly with Haliburton, the Pacers were fast, fun, and there was hope of more to come in the future.

Where the previous iteration of the Pacers had become stale and a painful watch with little to look forward to in its future, these new-look Pacers are somehow both younger and better with far more room to grow. While not many expected that hope that was felt after the trade deadline last year to turn into wins so soon, the Pacers are 20-17 and sit at sixth seed in the Eastern Conference standings as 2023 begins. And Haliburton not only looks like an All Star but a potential All-Star starter and perhaps an All-NBA level player in his third season as he’s figuring out how to close games before our eyes in the 5-1 stretch with wins against the Celtics, Heat, Hawks, Cavaliers, and Clippers.

His latest closing masterpiece against former Pacers star Paul George and the Clippers was the exclamation point to a stunning set of 4th-quarter performances of late. Coming into the final 12 minutes with only six points, Haliburton scored 18 points including 13 of the team’s final 15 points, answering every score by George with his own including drives through contact to the basket to earn trips to the free-throw line, nifty hesitation dribble to blow by the switching big man, and a pull-up 3-pointer that followed a George turnover in transition that may have been the play of the game.

“In that fourth, I knew what time it was,” Haliburton said after the game. Carlisle called him a “basketball savant” that has an ability to feel what the team needs in big moments and Haliburton echoed that point, “It’s a feel thing. It’s just feeling what a team needs in that moment. Today we needed some energy. We needed a boost from me.”

The veterans that remained on the roster despite never ceasing rumors of deals for picks far off in the future: Myles Turner and Buddy Hield have been instrumental in the team’s success. You can talk all you want about Hield’s shooting and spacing that he adds to the team but perhaps his best quality given the state of the previous roster is the fact that this guy never misses games. 

“We’re just trying to build a culture here with guys who want to play every night,” Haliburton said after a game in December, “who want to compete, just love the game of basketball.”

Shots fired at the Injury List Era squad

As for Turner, he’s played the best basketball of his career and is relishing being back at his comfortable center position full-time while also playing with the best playmaking guard that he’s ever had as a teammate. He’s played so well that talks of a re-negotiation and extension have begun between him and the front office that could allow the team to give Turner a hefty raise this season while signing him to a reasonable extension over future years. While there’s no guarantee that an agreement will be reached, it’s a much different story than before the year when Kevin Pritchard said matter of factly that Turner would be a free agent after the season despite those extension options being available if both sides were interested.

While the defense isn’t amazing, it’s better this year despite the roster still being short of bigger wings and playing four guards almost all the time because of the presence of Turner, who missed the second half of last season, and the additions of capable defenders in Nesmith and Nembhard in the starting lineup.

Nembhard is the best perimeter defender on the team, makes savvy, veteran-level plays without thinking while taking on assignments like guarding Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James. He’s hit a buzzer beater in Los Angeles to beat the Lakers and defeated the defending champion Warriors in their arena while doing basically everything for the Pacers offense who were without all of their other point guards. That 31-point, 13-assist performance might be the best game a Pacers rookie has ever had. 

Nesmith, who could never manage to get consistent playing time in Boston, has found his footing with the Pacers over the last month. His detonation at the rim against Jarrett Allen and the Cavaliers seemed to further his confidence and in December he had shooting splits of 50.8/39.7/100 while averaging 11.6 points in 23.9 minutes per game. If he can consistently make his 3-pointers at an above average rate while playing his energetic, do-the-dirty-work style on the other end, the Pacers might have found something in the 2020 lottery pick.

While attacking on closeouts and driving to the basket had been dicey early in the season for Nesmith, especially with his left hand, he’s had a series of nice attacks, including that vicious dunk, to the rim lately while being under control and finishing. He started the year off slow with his shot but also had been dealing with a foot injury. You wonder if that was affecting his play on offense with how well he’s come along of late.

Oh and the Pacers had their first draft pick (besides the Jonathan Bender pick they acquired in the Antonio Davis trade) in the top-9 since they took George McCloud 7th in 1989. It’s truly incredible that a sports franchise can go through three entire decades without ever being bad enough to pick in the single digits in their next draft. With that rare opportunity, Kevin Pritchard and the front office had to nail that pick and by all accounts through this nearly half a season, they did just that in selecting Bennedict Mathurin at sixth overall. 

While he’s only started two games, he’s been an absolutely electric scorer and driver off the bench for the Pacers. He already might be the team’s best player at drawing fouls ever … as a rookie. As a player with an unwavering confidence, Mathurin has gone through countless scoring outbursts that keep the Pacers in games to start the second and fourth quarters as he becomes the go-to option in bench lineups. His ability to both get to the rim and force contact and whistles often stems the tide of opposing runs and swings momentum in the opposite direction. He leads the league in bench scoring at 17.2 points per game and is a legitimate contender for sixth man of the year.

While his efficiency has dipped in the last month, you can see how much potential there is for him to grow as he gains a strong handle and a better feel for when he should look to pass to an open teammate. The fact that he’s succeeding this much already even with those clear areas of improvement for him to work on are really encouraging to his future outlook.

In December of 2021, I wrote this on the many problems of the Pacers:

And that brings us to the core issue for this team: they don’t have a star that can put the team on their back and get a basket whenever one is necessary. Not one of their best players is a consistent scoring threat that can be counted on each and every night in the clutch. A basketball team without a star is a football team without a quarterback. It’s a television show without its show-runner. It’s the fourth season of Community.

No one wants to watch that gas leak season and that’s what the Pacers solved in getting Haliburton and him quickly figuring out just how good he can be. With Mathurin, they may eventually have two guys that they can count on in these crucial situations and if that’s the case, watch out in 2023 and beyond. I don’t know what the future holds for the Pacers or even whether they can keep up this level of play this season, but I’m sure excited to find out and that definitely was not the case one year ago.

Why the Indiana Pacers should look back before moving forward

I recently wrote about how important it is for the Pacers to maintain balance, but not just on one side of the ball or with the makeup of their roster. It’s also important to maintain balance with their approach to the trade deadline (and eventually offseason) with a team that’s overachieving, but still trying to maintain the idea of thinking in three- to four-year increments that the front office was adamant about before the 2022-23 season started.

That was easier to do before the Pacers were on pace to win 20 (!!!) more games than expected, a mark only five teams have matched since 2000-01. That’s too small of a sample to make any conclusions, especially when combined with the drastic shift in how teams now have to navigate player empowerment, but it does point to how unlikely this season has been.

Thanks to Basketball Reference, widening the scope found more than 40 teams in the last 20 years that won 12 or more games than their preseason over/under. Since that list included teams like the 2008-09 Boston Celtics and 2014-15 Golden State Warriors on their way to winning titles, looking at the teams expected to be under .500 is more relevant:

  • 2022-23 Pacers, Jazz
  • 2021-22 Cavs, Raptors, Grizzlies
  • 2020-21 Knicks, Suns
  • 2018-19 Kings
  • 2017-18 Pacers, 76ers
  • 2015-16 Hornets, Blazers
  • 2014-15 Celtics, Bucks
  • 2013-14 Hornets, Suns, Blazers, Raptors
  • 2012-13 Rockets

19 teams on the list, but one thing almost all of this group has in common is young players stepping up much sooner than expected. Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin. Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr.. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The list goes on.

If it isn’t young players being better than expected, it’s players on their second contracts that exploded after being given the keys to an expanded role: Lauri Markkanen, Pascal Siakam, Julius Randle, Isaiah Thomas, James Harden and last but certainly not least…Victor Oladipo.

The overachievers in the last couple years are the ones that encapsulate the same sort of situation the 2022-23 Pacers find themselves in. They’ve got multiple young players producing at a level hardly anyone saw coming for each of them, certainly not all of them at the same time, on top of veterans stepping up into bigger roles and playing better than ever.

We’re all familiar with the idea of crawl, walk, run. It’s to drive home the importance of taking the right steps in the right order to avoid falling flat on your face, whether figuratively or literally. But the saying is especially relevant when considering how the Pacers might operate compared to how some of these past teams approached building their team after their unexpected success.

Editor’s Gif Note: So there’s a *PACE* they need to take in advancing through these stages

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ path to overachieving actually started the year before anyone was really paying attention, with a trade the Pacers were involved in. Just like the Pacers inserted themselves into the James Harden trade in 2020-21 to acquire Caris LeVert, the Cavs joined in by poaching 22 year old Jarrett Allen from Houston with just a late first prior to his restricted free agency. Despite being under .500 on the season, the Cavs targeted an undervalued asset prior to the summer where they would have significant cap space.

Crawl.

The Cavs finished the 2019-20 season with the fifth-best lottery odds, jumping up to third to draft 20yo Mobley. Days later, they traded for 24yo Markkanen and his new four-year, $67 million contract and signed veteran point guard Ricky Rubio for a year to play with 22yo rising star Darius Garland. Then in the midst of surprising the league by floating between third and fifth in the Eastern Conference, they moved their own protected first plus a good second round pick for Caris LeVert, a deal Pacers fans are familiar with. Getting LeVert did bring some questions about his exact fit with Garland, but it was also yet another data point on the value of having multiple ball handlers on the floor with their young core.

Walk.

After compounding injuries and eventually losing in the play-in, the Cavs entered the 2021 offseason as a fun up-and-comer that had holes around their core but an idea of what they might need after some test runs. Then they shocked most of the world, and definitely the entire state of New York, by pushing darn near all of their chips to the center of the table to acquire Donovan Mitchell with three years plus a player option left on his max deal.

Run.

The Mitchell trade was analyzed for weeks, but this wasn’t an all-in move for just one year by a team desperate to be relevant again (don’t worry, we’ll get to those). This was adding a 26 year old All-Star to a legitimate core of players who are 20, 22 and 23 that are cost-controlled for at least four more seasons.

How about the Memphis Grizzlies? They’ve continually improved the last few years, but then made trades that appeared to make them worse in the short term in favor of getting extra assets and betting on internal development. That process has led to Memphis being one of the best teams in the Western Conference and having two legitimate Most Improved Player candidates in the same year while maintaining a war chest that will make them competitive for the next available star player.

The 2020-21 Suns are a story similar to the Cavs, getting incrementally better in consecutive years with small tweaks to the roster, then making a massive trade to get Chris Paul. Someone decently smart wrote after last year’s trade deadline about how that blueprint might actually be something for the Pacers to consider because of how massive the benefit of multiple rotation players on rookie contracts is. Phoenix has historically been an organization not worth mirroring for a whole list of reasons, but there’s a decent argument in favor of this specific team-building pathway.

Almost more important than the exact transactions that each team made is the invaluable knowledge of testing what might work with your core. The Cavs knew they needed another high-level guy who could create shots for themselves and others. The Grizzlies have one of the deepest teams in the entire league, constantly able to compensate for injury or mix and match for different looks. The Suns saw how well Devin Booker played with Ricky Rubio, and made a relatively low-cost bet on the Point God that resulted in the best record in the NBA and a trip to the Finals.

Just like the three teams above, everyone will have a different path to their version of contending, and that’s the beauty of the NBA. Unfortunately there’s also quite a few examples of teams who tried to skip steps, of organizations that thought they were ready to sprint with the top of the league but quickly fell on their face once the season started.

Sometimes NBA teams forget to pull their pants up before they ramp up the timeline.

The 2020-21 Knicks drastically overperformed on their way to a playoff appearance thanks to Julius Randle and others having career seasons. But then they spent $66million per year in long term money to retain a group of players that are either not on the team or not in the rotation just 18 months later. Not only that, but New York then had to use some of the draft capital they stockpiled for a star to shed that bad salary, all while not prioritizing about two years of young player development.

The 2018-19 Kings won 13 more games than expected and their most since 2005-06. Trading for 27yo Harrison Barnes at the deadline prior to his free agency, then signing him to a descending contract with your extra cap space? Sure! Spending another 35% of the cap on 28yo Corey Joseph, 30yo Dewayne Dedmon and 34 Trevor Ariza to multi-year deals? Not good, especially when the last two didn’t finish the first year of that contract on the team.

The 2021-22 Wolves didn’t make the list above, but they definitely belong in this section. They were so excited to have made the playoffs for the second time in the last 20 years, they gave up everything to acquire Rudy Gobert. Was it really time to do *that*? Spend every available draft pick to bring in a 30yo 7-footer on a $200million contract to match the timeline and cover up the flaws of your other 7-footer on a massive extension? Absolutely not. Minnesota bet that 21yo Anthony Edwards was so talented that he could overcome the weird fit of double bigs (long live Turbonis), and it’s unlikely things could have gone worse thus far.

The Wolves have years to figure out this core if they choose to (even if they might not have the assets), and the Kings and Knicks are on an upward trajectory after some smart moves. But these are just a few examples of the hole teams can find themselves in when they try to run after crawling faster than they expected. There’s a difference between a team being opportunistic with acquiring talent, and a team spending too much, too fast in a desperate attempt to cling to the feeling that came with surpassing low expectations.

There’s a team on the list above that hasn’t been brought up, but one Pacers fans are re all familiar with. The 2017-18 Pacers had basically an entire rotation of guys playing better than anyone thought, led by the shocking All-NBA play from Oladipo. But Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers’ front office stood pat at the deadline despite being 15 games over .500, tinkered in the following offseason with Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott, and were on pace to win 55 games when disaster struck with Oladipo’s knee injury. 

We don’t know for sure how that season would have played out, but we have seen Pritchard be patient, yet aggressive. He took a chance to bring in versatile starters in Malcolm Brogdon and TJ Warren, which was smart business even if injuries constantly plagued that core. When it was clearly time to pivot for both on and off court reasons, KP capitalized on a trade going on James Harden requesting a trade. Then a year later, they seized a chance to completely overhaul the roster in just a couple weeks, and that’s led to what’s currently one of the most fun Pacers rosters in the last decade.

As with any trade discussion for me, everything comes down to what the offers are, which almost no one knows for certain until the Woj or Shams notification comes through. There will be thousands of words written about players and deals that might fit whatever phase of the re-tool the team might be in. But ultimately there’s no doubt that the Pacers brass has earned trust that they can transition this team from crawl to walk to run, and it will be fascinating to possibly gain some insight into where they think they are as the trade deadline approaches.

PacersrecaP #29: On Aaron Nesmith’s emphatic slam and the best game of the Pacers season

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.

For the Pacers, it’s all about balance

The 2022-23 Pacers aren’t a balanced team … but they also weren’t supposed to be.

Kevin Pritchard said before the season they’re looking at this team in three or four year increments, back when saying that was a way to prepare the fanbase for how many Ls were about to be held. They were skewing younger, trade rumors were flying, and fans were already Photoshopping a certain French prospect into a Pacers jersey as a sign of hopeful things to come in the 2023 NBA Draft.

When you’re in the early stages of a rebui…excuse me, retool, it’s about talent and asset acquisition. Retain Jalen Smith and start him at the 4, that’s a win to see if he can develop even more. Trade for Aaron Nesmith as a buy-low flier along with a draft pick, absolutely. Use the 31st pick on a guy in Andrew Nembhard who would end up as the 8th player on the team that’s 6’6” and under because he’s just a good basketball player, who cares about position of need.

But here we are, about to turn the calendar to 2023, and the Pacers are sitting at 17-16 through Christmas. So what now?

Balance.

This Pacers roster has a lot of young players that are probably going to need time to learn the NBA. Shoot, only four of the top 13 players in minutes played for the Pacers are beyond their rookie contract, and only two of those guys are older than 27. That’s a great position to be in with a three or four year perspective, but that the roster is stuffed full at both ends of the positional spectrum with a gaping hole in the middle where forwards are for every team in the NBA.

Based on height and minutes played data I gathered from Basketball-Reference.com, the 2022-23 Pacers have had a player that is between 6’7” and 6’9” on the court for 6% of their total minutes played so far this year. That makes the Pacers by far the worst in the NBA and the only team below the 15% mark, with the exception of the Bucks who have been without Khris Middleton and his 11% of their minutes last year. 

You can say the NBA is positionless, but it sure doesn’t look positionless when 6’5”, 190lb Nembhard is one of the better options on the team to guard 6’9”, 250lb LeBron James.

Or when 6’10”, 215lb Smith has to try and stay in front of skilled forwards on the perimeter despite clearly being a natural center, with a move to the bench as the backup 5 confirming as much. Oshae Brissett is 6’7” and the only forward regularly in the rotation, but he’s an unrestricted free agent this summer that has played less and less each year he’s on the team for reasons that I still don’t understand.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter is probably tired of hearing me clamor for the Pacers to get a forward, and fans probably have some deep-seated resentment towards waiting on a forward to make the roster make sense after two years of waiting on T.J. Warren to recover from injury, but the Pacers do need forwards.

Editor’s Note: there were a lot more of these to choose from.

Putting players in their more natural position on both ends of the floor can only benefit everyone on the team, make life easier as defenses have to respect skilled size on defense, and take away some of the more obvious mismatches that opposing offenses can exploit every time down the floor.

Again, balance.

Good teams have around an above-average offense and defense, while title contenders almost always end up being top-10 in both. At the moment, the only two players locked in to starting on the next great Pacers team are Tyrese Haliburton and Benedict Mathurin. There are some guys on the roster who might be starting for that team, and some will surely be in the rotation, but the two core players that almost every decision should be molded around are questionable defenders at the moment.

There’s a great chance Haliburton and Mathurin will improve on defense to some degree, but those improvements likely won’t yield even an average defense by themselves. Even if Rick Carlisle puts together a great defensive scheme that can cover up some deficiencies, the playoffs often end up with the opposing star looking around the floor and saying “hey you, come out here” to the worst defender. It’s almost impossible to avoid that, so the rest of the team is going to need to defend.

There are credible defenders on the current roster. Myles is obviously one of the best defensive big men in the league. Nembhard shouldn’t be asked to guard LeBron, but he stepped up to that challenge and many more without looking completely outmatched. Nesmith has really come on as of late as an athletic and versatile wing defender. Chris Duarte showed he could hold his own last year, but hasn’t been fantastic after missing some time with an injury that is surely impacting him.

But a team that wants to be good can’t rely on getting by when defending stars. The Pacers are missing someone who they can trust to take the other team’s best player out of the game the way Jaden McDaniels from the Wolves did to Haliburton in November, (though Tyrese did end up dropping 26 and 15 on him two weeks later, because he’s incredible). They’re especially missing someone who can take on the big wing defensive assignment, one of the most important aspects in modern basketball when looking at contenders.

Acquiring players like that is easier said than done. 3&D players are what every contender is looking for, while two-way starters almost always end up getting overpaid because they contribute so much to winning. But the Pacers are in a situation right now that is as flexible as it gets, sitting with extra picks on top of all their own future ones, a slew of tradable contracts to get to nearly any price range and a heap of cap space. So they should make something happen right?

Still, balance.

Like I said earlier, this Pacers team wasn’t supposed to be in this position. Most win projections had the Pacers under 30 wins for the season, selling off some of their veterans as they strive for lottery balls with no chance they end up as buyers at the trade deadline. We should be careful about rooting for the team to get ahead of themselves just because they’re performing better than expected in the first year of this new direction, especially when there are young players on the team like Isaiah Jackson who simply aren’t in the rotation despite showing intriguing potential.

Pritchard has shown us the type of player that he likes to acquire: cost-controlled younger players that are coming from a situation where they may not have been optimized. Darius Bazley, Cam Reddish or Jalen McDaniels might fit and should all be relatively cheap options in a trade or in free agency this summer. Does trading or signing for a P.J. Washington, Cam Johnson or John Collins count as skipping steps? A versatile 24 to 27 year old starting-level forward should never be considered a bad move at the right price, regardless of team direction. The same train of thought goes for what to do with Turner and Buddy Hield: it’s all about getting the right pieces, at the right price, at the right time.

One more time, balance.

The present is entertaining. This is the youngest Pacers team since the 1984-85 season, which is well-known to have been the last time the Pacers had a single digit draft pick, and this is one of the most versatile and athletic rosters in a very long time.

The future is bright. Haliburton is just 22 years old on the way to his first All-Star appearance and a likely maximum rookie extension that will start after next season. Mathurin is 20 years old, with unparalleled confidence and legit NBA scoring in just his first year as a pro. There’s time to find out what works alongside the backcourt of the future. 

And the possibilities are almost endless. There shouldn’t be one decision that’s going to make or break the future of this team in the next couple of months. The Pacers’ front office will make plenty of decisions going one way or another, maybe even multiple directions simultaneously, that hopefully ends up with the Blue and Gold as a true contender again. Ultimately, it will likely end up being all about…

Balance.

Tyrese Haliburton’s actions speak loudly. He’s an All Star.

“Give me the ball and the game will be over.”

That’s what Tyrese Haliburton told his teammates with the game tied before the final possession.

He wasn’t lying. No OT tonight.

Haliburton hit the game winning 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left to give the Indiana Pacers a 111-108 victory over the Miami Heat. 

The final triple set a Pacers franchise record with 10 3-pointers as Haliburton scored a career high 43 points while making 14 of his 20 shot attempts.

“I had to respond,” Haliburton said in the post-game interview. “Last time we played these guys they really held me in check, so I wanted to come out here and respond the right way.”

1 point in the last game against Miami to a career high in this one. Quite a response. A redemption arc as sweet and satisfying as a steamy mug of hot chocolate on a snowy evening.

This 43-point explosion followed his 33-point effort on the road against the Boston Celtics that led the Pacers (17-16) to a 117-112 win. On the season, he’s now averaging 20.7 points, 10.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals while shooting 48.5/40.5/87.8.

Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle called Haliburton an artist after the game and he painted a pair of masterpieces in the last two games. Against the Celtics, it went beyond his scoring as the league leader in assists had multiple no-look passes including this one that had Robert Williams III convinced he was passing it to the wing.

Against the Heat, Haliburton repeatedly shot at any time when he had even a glimmer of an opening. Particularly adept at getting off his looks, no matter how deep, in this one in the switch pocket. That brief moment where his defender stays attached to the screener but before the screener’s defender can get up to defend him. 

His artistry wasn’t limited to the offensive end either as he blocked a Victor Oladipo 3-point attempt at one end and it led to a transition 3-pointer on the other.

“No external motivation,” Haliburton said after the game of his play recently. “It’s all within myself.”

Yeah, sure, certain comments had nothing to do with the fire that’s been in your eye the last couple games, Tyrese. We’ll go with that. Actions speak louder than words and his actions are yelling two words very clearly: ALL STAR.

Stray Observations on Chris Duarte, Aaron Nesmith, Myles Turner, Jalen Smith, Pacers closing out games, and more from the last two games coming soon.

PacersrecaP #28: On Haliburton’s aggression, rotation questions as the Pacers fall below .500

The Indiana Pacers (15-16) are under .500 for the first time since early in the season after winning just 1 of their last 5 games. They are 4-9 over their last 13 contests and have fallen to 9th in the Eastern conference.

If 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.

Quick Summary of the Week’s Games:

  • The Pacers and the Heat played in a game that felt like it was from 20 years ago with a final score of 87-82. While it was good to see the Pacers have a tremendous defensive mindset following their lack of effort on defense and the glass against the Nets backups, they couldn’t overcome a late flurry of scoring by Jimmy Butler and an incredibly off-night from their star Tyrese Haliburton, who scored just 1 point and went 0 for 9 from the floor.
  • The Pacers swept the season series against the Golden State Warriors, which if I’m not mistaken makes them the NBA Champions now, with a 125-119 win. The Pacers scored 47 points in the second quarter and built a 20-point halftime lead and survived the Warriors comeback attempt as Steph Curry injured his shoulder and Draymond Green got ejected after complaining about an obvious foul call, though Green may have been an addition by subtraction in the Warriors comeback attempt as he scored just 1 point and had 3 assists and 6 turnovers.
  • The Pacers and the Cleveland Cavaliers faced off in the battle of teams without wings. The Pacers built a double-digit lead heading into the fourth but the offense struggled in the clutch scoring just 2 points in the final five minutes and Donovan Mitchell scored 18 of his 41 points in the fourth, leading the Cavs to a 118-112 win.
  • The Pacers had a 6-point lead with under two minutes to go but couldn’t close out the New York Knicks who won by a final score of 109-106. Aaron Nesmith had a career high 23 points and 10 rebounds but not enough shot making from the rest of the roster as the clutch-time offense failed the team again.

Tyrese Haliburton still finding the right balance between aggression and passivity

Haliburton started off the week with the worst game of his Pacers career, scoring just 1 point and missing all nine of his shots as he was flummoxed by the defense of Bam Adebayo who repeatedly ended up guarding him after switches. The problem, however, was less than he missed all nine of his shots but that he quit looking to take his shot and only had one attempt in the fourth quarter. There were a couple of possessions where Haliburton had a chance to take an open shot but hesistated and his window quickly closed.

In a game where the Pacers scored just 82 points, they needed more looks for their leader and couldn’t afford him to pass any up. Haliburton recognized that saying after the game that he has to do a better job understanding how quickly you can turnaround an 0-for-9 game. That’s why the most encouraging Haliburton game this week was not the next game against the Warriors where he dazzled with 29 points but the Cavaliers game where he missed all 8 of his 3-pointers but stayed aggressive all night and finished with 17 points and 14 assists by making all five of his 2-point attempts and making all seven of his free throws. Continue reading PacersrecaP #28: On Haliburton’s aggression, rotation questions as the Pacers fall below .500

PacersrecaP #26-27: Do the Pacers know what rebounding is?

59-30.

That’s how badly the Brooklyn Nets beat the Indiana Pacers on the glass. The Nets grabbed 29 offensive rebounds. The Pacers had 30 rebounds total.

So many of them were embarrassing, lack of effort rebounds on missed free throw attempts or plays where multiple Pacers just watched the ball fall to the ground and bounce to their opponent. It made you question whether the Pacers knew that they were allowed to grab the ball after the opposing team misses a shot.

Keep in mind the Nets were playing without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and every other Nets player than you’ve heard of besides former Pacers player Edmond Sumner, who scored 21 points and added 7 rebounds and 5 assists with a dazzling mix of speed and effort that was lacking from the Pacers roster.

Sumner had 4 offensive rebounds. Myles Turner had 3 total in 30 minutes. Jalen Smith had 3 total in 13 minutes. Isaiah Jackson had 2 total in 12 minutes.

Every Nets starter had at least 6 rebounds. Buddy Hield led the Pacers starters with 4. The only Pacers player with more than 4 rebounds was Bennedict Mathurin with 7.

After a strong start to the season with rebounding, the team was 29th in the league in rebounding percentage over the timeframe of their long road trip and they’ll continue to fall down in the standings for the entire season after they were dominated by Day’Ron Sharpe tonight.

There’s just not much else worthy of being said about this game. Unfortunately, the team wasted a fantastic shooting night from Tyrese Haliburton who scored 35 points on 12-of-15 shooting. They scored 76 points in the first half but none of it mattered because they couldn’t put in enough effort to grab rebounds against nine Nets players on mostly minimum contracts that scored 136 points.

This was one of the first games that really featured expectations for the Pacers (14-13) to win and boy did they disappoint. The lack of expectations has been part of what has made this season fun and it’s hard to take this team seriously as a potential playoff team if they can’t beat the second and third units of the Brooklyn Nets.

These kind of losses happen to everyone in a long NBA season, see the Warriors losing to the Andrew Nembhard-led Indiana Pacers last Monday but after giving up 40 points in the first quarter and 41 points in the fourth quarter you can’t blame anyone firing up the trade machine to see who might give up picks and young players for the Pacers veterans as they go back to dreaming of lottery luck.

This article was supposed to be about two games but this one was so bad that it’s hard to spend much time on the Pacers victory over the Wizards missing Bradley Beal.

Stray Observations:

  • Oshae Brissett was fantastic in both games scoring 16 against the Wizards and 14 against the Nets. He hit 3 triples in each game and has upped his 3-point percentage to 37% on the season. With Jalen Smith’s inconsistencies (0 for 7 last night, 5 for 10 tonight), it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Brissett eventually retake his starting spot in the lineup that he held for a good portion of last season.
  • Tyrese Haliburton has made 10 of his last 12 attempts from 3.
  • Mathurin’s slump continues. He’s now 3 for his last 28 from deep. Even when he hits one, it turns out he didn’t as he had his foot on the line on his one make from deep tonight that was correctly ruled a 2. Even with his shooting struggles, he has been efficient enough from the floor with 13 points on 9 shots and 18 points on 14 shots in these two games.
  • I am completely over replay reviews. They take too long, rarely affect the outcome of the game, and there’s just too many plays in a basketball game for any one moment to warrant a 5-minute review. Maybe the last two minutes but the end of games are already way slower than a game of basketball should be. On a semi-related note, I’m starting a pop punk band called Reckless Closeout. We’ll have auditions next week.
  • The Tyrese Haliburton / Buddy Hield press conference after the Wizards game alone made the trade a winner. If you haven’t watched this old married couple interview, you need to. Every minute is gold.

PacersrecaP #25: Pacers fall behind early, fall apart late in loss to Timberwolves

So, it may not be the best plan to fall behind by a ton of points and try to make comebacks for nearly all of your team’s wins. Who knew?

The Wolves were up 23 early in the second quarter. The Pacers came all the way back to be up 8 in the third quarter. Then, in a back and forth fourth quarter, the Pacers fell apart in the final minute and lost by a final score of 121-115.

There were plenty of positives to take away from this one. Perhaps the most important of them all: the West coast road trip is over. Rejoice all ye EST fans and respect to ye international watchers that watch these games live no matter the timezone; I seriously have no idea how you do it.

1. Tyrese Haliburton is back and back to his All-Star hopeful ways

Haliburton returned from his sore groin injury that caused him to miss two games and was back to immediately doing things that have never been done before. He had 26 points and 15 assists which is the first time any Pacers player has ever put up 25/15 in a game in franchise history. He also added three steals including a pair of fantastic free safety interceptions that stopped transition opportunities.

Haliburton struggled dealing with the length of Jaden McDaniels in the first game against the Wolves two weeks ago as he shot just 4 for 15 and scored only 10 points in one of the first games that teams tried to match him up with a longer wing this season. He made the necessary adjustments in the second chance against them tonight as he went 9 for 14 to break out of a little shooting slump of late. Continue reading PacersrecaP #25: Pacers fall behind early, fall apart late in loss to Timberwolves

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.

PacersrecaP #21: Kings crush Pacers in Haliburton’s first return to Sacramento

The Pacers played a game last night. It did not go well. The Sacramento Kings played with desperation after losing three straight and the Indiana Pacers did not match that level of effort as they were dominated throughout the game and lost by a final score of 137-114.

Tyrese Haliburton made his first return to Sacramento since the trade and received a standing ovation and loud cheers during his introduction and then Buddy Hield immediately received boos as the next player introduced and continued to be booed whenever he touched the ball in the first quarter.

Hield had a great reaction post-game to the boos, “I don’t give a [expletive]. I go to sleep happy and make a lot of money.”

Rick Carlisle said that the blame for the embarrassing loss is on him for this one as he didn’t get the team prepared and ready for what they were going to face with the Kings team looking to end a 3-game losing streak.

React to this Kings destruction of the Pacers as much as you want. It’s silly to put too much stock into it as far as the trade goes. The Pacers (12-9) aren’t supposed to have a better record than the Kings (11-9) this year and it was always a long term move for Indiana. For the Kings, this is the first time they’ve been over .500 this far into the season in a long time as they look to end the longest playoff drought in league history. Right now, both teams are way more fun than they were before the trade and you can’t say either team regrets the deal. It’s certainly hard to see the Pacers ever regretting it.

It has not been a good start to the long road trip for the Pacers who without an impressive comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers would be staring at three straight blowout losses with each one worse than the last. The Pacers play the surprising Utah Jazz next so the schedule doesn’t get any easier any time soon.

1. Jalen Smith was having the game of his life before getting elbowed in the face.

Stix was about the only thing going right for the Pacers in the third quarter as the Kings put up 44 points. Smith scored 18 of his 22 points in the third quarter and did a ton of damage as the lone big on the floor with four guards. He went 8 for 10 from the field and 4 for 5 from deep on the night. Continue reading PacersrecaP #21: Kings crush Pacers in Haliburton’s first return to Sacramento

PacersrecaP #20: Andrew Nembhard hits buzzer beater to give Pacers win over Lakers

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.

Continue reading PacersrecaP #20: Andrew Nembhard hits buzzer beater to give Pacers win over Lakers

PacersrecaP #19: Ivica Zubac dominates the Indiana Pacers who start their long road trip with a loss

The Indiana Pacers did not get off to a good start to their long Western adventure with their worst offensive game of the season against the Los Angeles Clippers who dominated behind a 30 point, 29 rebound game from center Ivica Zubac.

This isn’t a game that any Pacers fan is going to want to spend too much time thinking about. Just one of those nights in a long NBA season where the team is unable to make anything. The Pacers made just 38% of their shots overall and just 21% from deep. It was a sad, painful watch. A rare sight for a team that has been able to at least make games interesting when they fall behind early even when they weren’t winning many games at the start of the year.

This game was as frustrating as a Pokémon trainer’s trek through Mt. Moon and hitting Zubat encounters every three steps.

Ivica Zubat hit every member of the Pacers with supersonic and they were unable to shake off the confusion of his crossmatches and bruising play inside. They kept hurting themselves with missed open jump shots. Whenever the Pacers forced a miss of their own, Ivica Zubat used Leech Life on each of his offensive boards and putbacks as he sucked the life out of any sorry attempt that the Pacers could muster at momentum yesterday afternoon.

Usually it’s the Pacers lack of wings that doom their defense but in this one they could have used an electric type. No encounters with the rarely sighted Clefairwhi Leonard or Paul Geo(rge)dude as the pair of stars were at their usual spots in street clothes. It didn’t matter Zubat took care of the whole roster. Somehow TJ McConnell managed a few quick attacks that led to fouls on Zubat who finally fainted onto the bench with six fouls.

1) Jalen Smith has a career high and gets out of his slump a bit

The Clippers crossmatched Myles Turner and Jalen Smith because of both Smith’s struggles and Turner’s hot shooting. While they dared Smith to shoot and left him wide open, he was able to break out of his cold spell a bit. But it did the intended effect of keeping Turner out of the play far more often and Turner didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble in the first half. Smith meanwhile scored 19 of his 23 in the first half and kept the Pacers close.

Credit to Jalen Smith for being a highlight to this one as he scored a career high 23 points (previously he had scored 19 points on five separate occasions) and added 9 rebounds. He made more 3-pointers in this game (3 for 7) than he had in his previous six games combined (2 for 23). He also played very aggressively, didn’t shy away from taking those open looks, and tried to posterize Zubac when he had the opportunity and drew a foul.

We’ll probably see more and more crossmatches as team’s adjust to Turner’s great play and try to take advantage of Smith’s streaky outside shot. It will be fascinating to see how the team continues to adjust from here.

2) Tyrese Haliburton continues to rack up assists

Even in a game where the Pacers couldn’t make anything, Haliburton still managed to find 11 assists in this one. It was his second straight game with zero turnovers and he’s at 26:0 ATO in those pair of games. He, like the rest of the team, missed a ton of shots that he normally hits in this one. Floaters inside, his patient layups that he earns with nice footwork, a beautifully played 3-pointer off of him throwing an inbounds pass and then racing to the corner. So many great looks and so few results. His 15 points took 16 shots to get there and he was unable to get to the free throw line.

3) There’s just nothing else I really want to talk about with this game.

It was bad. Let’s move on. Here’s a list of guys with bad shooting nights: Buddy Hield (3 for 14), Myles Turner (3 for 9), Aaron Nesmith (1 for 7), Isaiah Jackson (1 for 5), Oshae Brissett (0 for 3). Oddly, without Zubac, the Clippers and Pacers game might have been the equivalent of that Colts and Broncos Thursday Night game a few weeks ago. Both teams were completely inept outside of the Croatian big man. Without Zubac’s 14 of 17, the rest of the Clippers roster was 28 for 77 which is good for a whopping 36.3%. They made less 3-pointers than the Pacers managed in this one at 18.8% (6 for 32). Let’s hope this game with the Lakers tonight is more entertaining. We know Bennedict Mathurin is going to be ready for his first matchup with LeBron James and we have the neverending chatter about every good and bad Myles Turner and Buddy Hield game in Lakerland finally reaching its zenith or nadir tonight with the teams facing each other.

PacersrecaP #16-18: Report Cards for Pacers games against the Magic, Wolves, and Nets

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 Haliburton Grade: A for All of the Accolades, All-Star, All-NBA, Assist Artist

Fresh off of his first career player of the week honor, Tyrese Haliburton had games with 18 points and 14 assists, 10 points and 14 assists, 21 points and 15 assists. Continue reading PacersrecaP #16-18: Report Cards for Pacers games against the Magic, Wolves, and Nets

PacersrecaP #15: Indiana Pacers win fourth straight behind career night from Aaron Nesmith

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.

Don’t give up, Shadow! Peter needs you. 😭

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.

Stray Observations:

  • 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.

PacersrecaP #14: Pacers make yet another double-digit comeback, Haliburton will “be fine”

The Indiana Pacers moved to 8-6 after their third straight double-digit comeback victory. This time it came against the Houston Rockets who led 30-10 near the beginning of the second quarter.

Yes, the Pacers scored only 10 points in the first quarter, the lowest amount that any team has scored in the opening quarter this season so far. I don’t know if it was just a matter of underestimating the youthful, tanktastic Rockets or if they were having flashbacks to the pandemic arenas with how empty the place looked at the start of the game, but the Pacers couldn’t do anything right during the first 12 minutes of the game. Eric Gordon was just driving through the lane and getting anything he wanted on offense. 

Rick Carlisle was so fed up with the effort that he took advantage of a no call in the second quarter as an opportunity to get a couple technicals and get ejected from the game. Either he would fire up his team or he wouldn’t have to watch this ugly one any longer. Seems like a win-win to me outside of the fines.

Rick Carlisle if he had hair to pull out before he got ejected.

Carlisle was ejected with 3:49 remaining in the second quarter and the Pacers down 46-33 after Jalen Green hit one of two technical free throws. The Pacers outscored the Rockets 66-45 for the remainder of the game. 

None of this looked to have mattered for a moment with Tyrese Haliburton went down in pain after making his running layup, hook shot to ice the game with 37 seconds left as Usman Garuba landed on his ankle. But after being helped to the locker room by the training staff, Tyrese Haliburton, who finished with 19 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, told Lloyd Pierce that he was “okay” though Pierce noted that they all say that and that he is icing his ankle. Fingers crossed it’s just a short-term ankle sprain. Haliburton went straight to Twitter to ease any fears of a long term injury.

1. The Comeback Kids

This was the third straight comeback from a big first half deficit for the Pacers. They trailed by 15 against the Raptors, 13 against the Hornets, and 20 tonight against the Rockets. They also had a fourth comeback earlier in the season when they came back from being down 14 against the Pistons. Lloyd Pierce credited the team’s chemistry with each other for why they’ve been so good at fighting back this season. Continue reading PacersrecaP #14: Pacers make yet another double-digit comeback, Haliburton will “be fine”

PacersrecaP #13: Pacers dismantle the Hornets drop coverage, Bennedict Buckets, and more

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

After facing many teams that cover pick and rolls either by switching or playing at the level of the screen, Tyrese Haliburton’s eyes probably lit up with the Hornets and their drop coverage on the schedule for tonight.  Continue reading PacersrecaP #13: Pacers dismantle the Hornets drop coverage, Bennedict Buckets, and more

PacersrecaP #12: The Inconsistencies of Jalen Smith and Comparing Myles Turner’s Impressive Numbers

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.

Inconsistency can make for a fun theme park ride. Red line marks his season average.

Continue reading PacersrecaP #12: The Inconsistencies of Jalen Smith and Comparing Myles Turner’s Impressive Numbers