The Indiana Pacers finally got back on track, and they did it with emphasis.
The Pacers just lost 4 games in a row for the first time in ages. The road trip they had out West was a complete disaster, with each game worse than the previous one.
They lost a tough game by 2 in Denver. Then they lost a battle in Portland. Then the Clippers blew the doors off of them for 2 quarters. At the end of it all, Golden State smoked them. It kept getting progressively worse, and with each passing game, the team’s chances felt more helpless going forward.
It reminded me of what games felt like without Victor Oladipo last season. The offense felt college-level for chunks at a time, and nobody could create a quality shot. The team shot 44.3 percent from the field over the 4 games, and the outside shots were a disaster; only 31.5 percent of them went through the net.
After all that awfulness, the Pacers came back home to host the first-place (at the time) Denver Nuggets. After just losing to the Mile High squad a week before, and the team in a massive slump, it felt like it would be an uphill climb to win.
Instead, the Cers were like the 96′ Bulls. They won by 34. 56 percent of their shots went in. They slowed down the high powered Nuggets offense. Everything was clicking, and Nate McMillan was able to clear the bench and get the youngsters some minutes. It went about as well as anyone could have hoped.
What can we take from this game? Let’s dig in.
Tyreke Evans is in a zone.
Using basketball references game score (I don’t know exactly how it’s calculated but I think it does an okay dog of grading a players performance in a particular game) the past 3 games have been the second-best 3 game stretch of the season for Tyreke Evans.
Some of this is just that he is putting the ball in the basket; 22/42 shooting doesn’t seem like much, but for Tyreke this year, that’s a huge deal. Plus, he is breaking down the defense off the dribble as well as he can always do. When that is combined with efficient scoring, it puts a ton of pressure on the defense. This version of Tyreke would be very helpful in the postseason.
Bojan deserves more recognition.
Think about how much recognition you think Bojan Bogdanovic deserves for his recent run of play.
That isn’t enough. He deserves more. He’s at 21.3 points per game since Oladipo went down with an injury, which over the course of a full season would be the equivalent scoring output of LaMarcus Aldridge and CJ McCollum. Or, in layman’s terms, very good.
In this game, he was superb. 35 points on just 16 shots is just insane. Over 2 points per shot from your highest usage player is how you win an important basketball game.
He made his first 10 looks. The defense had to adjust, and that opened things up for everyone. The adjustments also didn’t stop Bogdanovic, who finished 13/16. He was just unstoppable.
A great game from the kids (and their parent).
Alize Johnson, Edmond Sumner, and TJ Leaf all got in at the end of the game and put together a solid couple of minutes. TJ was finishing, Sumner was putting up some counting stats, and Johnson was hustling all over the place. It’s always fun to watch the kids.
The parent (a nickname I literally just thought of for Kyle O’Quinn since he frequently plays with the kids) continued his season of gaudy per-36 numbers. O’Quinn had 4 points, 1 rebound, and 2 assists in 4 minutes. So 36, 9, and 18 per 36. About as good as is comes from your backup to the backup center.
(O’Quinn is averaging 14.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per 36 minutes this year. Giannis and Jokic are the only other guys in the NBA exceeding those numbers)
As is the tradition here at Bball Index, we like to ask questions.
When will Darren Collison come back?
After a 34 point win over one of the NBA’s premier teams, it feels wrong to wonder how much better the team could have been.
But Darren Collison has been pretty good since the All-Star break, and he missed this game with an injury. Meanwhile, Cory Joseph went 1/4 from the field and is in the worst slump of his Pacer career. With DC in the lineup, the Pacers could have won by 50.
Collison elevates the starting 5s offensive output. CoJo can still guard the other teams best point guard when the matchup requires it. Once DC is back, the Pacers will be better. The question is when, though it looks like it will be soon.
Is this McDermott’s role now?
In the most recent 4 games, McDermott has taken the most shots he has over any 4 game stretch on the whole season. Incidentally, he has shot very well from the field and has been a difference maker for the squad.
As the playoffs approach, having McDermott in a groove would be huge for Indiana. If he can continue to score well in a slightly increased role, he should receive more shots going forward. Adding usage and efficiency is what elevates a player from average to good.
I’m feeling bold. And brash. Let’s talk about something.
The guard rotation will see a minor shakeup soon.
The Pacers definitely won’t change their starting lineup or bench group. The same 8-10 guys will play every game so long as nobody suffers an injury the rest of the way.
But given that Tyreke is playing well and CoJo is really struggling, I wouldn’t be shocked in Nate McMillan tries to slightly alter the guard rotation to get Evans some minutes as the de facto point guard. He has thrived in that role over the past trio of games and has taken the bench to a different level. If Indiana can harness this lineup for the playoffs, it could add another card for them to put up their sleeve.
It’s one game, but it was really important for the Pacers. Looking back on why it went well could help us find ways to make it happen again. Indiana has 8 more games to get everything perfect. This was a great start.