With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Indiana Pacers to open the 2014-15 regular season, it almost seemed fitting Indiana's first possession of the season opener culminated in the worst possible start a team could have; a turnover. A bad pass from Donald Sloan was stolen by Tony Wroten, who was fouled immediately by Luis Scola to prevent a fast break bucket for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Getting off on the right foot wasn't in the cards for the Pacers in the first quarter, as the turnovers piled up throughout the first quarter, a grand total of eight, as Philadelphia sliced their way into the lane for a 24-14 advantage, scoring nearly all of their points in the paint. Looking for life, the Pacers brought Rodney Stuckey off the bench, who put together two drives to the basket for five quick points, helping key a 12-0 run for the Pacers, taking a lead into the second quarter, Stuckey having a hand in the final 10 points with five scored and two assists.
The Sixers ran off a 10-0 run of their own in the second quarter to move ahead 40-38, which they held onto heading into the break ahead 51-48. C.J. Miles was slow starting tonight, but found some life in the third to give Indiana the lead back. Indiana would push the lead to double figures before Alexey Shved put in three late third quarter threes to draw Philadelphia to within five.
Stuckey once again helped push the Pacers on the scoreboard in the early portions of the fourth with Indiana opening on an 8-0 run to go up 86-73. Philly would make one more push with Tony Wroten pulling the Sixers to within three with just over four minutes remaining, but seven straight points in the next minute would put the game out of reach with Indiana wrapping up a 103-91 victory to start the season 1-0, in spite of its ominous beginning.
Indiana got a huge lift from Rodney Stuckey in tonight's game, with him playing just 16 minutes of action, but scoring 16 points and dishing five assists. Stuckey provided a change of pace for Indiana with his ability to drive towards the basket and make things happen, something the Pacers showed no ability of with their starting unit. After the game, Frank Vogel stated his intentions to start Stuckey once he was rounded back into game shape.
While Stuckey brought life to the Pacers off the bench, the starting unit looked towards Roy Hibbert to make an impact as the team's lone starter from last season. Hibbert found himself beat up in the paint all night, but made the most of his opportunities, going to the line 13 times as part of his team high 22 points. Hibbert was 6-8 from the floor, making the Philly bigs work all night.
Hibbert also improved Indiana's standing on the defensive end, blocking seven shots to go with eight rebounds. With the injuries where they are for the Pacers in leaving Hibbert as Indiana's only starter from last season for the time being, Hibbert needs to be Indinaa's best player, and he stepped up to the challenge tonight. He even showed fire in the second quarter after receiving a shove from Malcolm Thomas.
Donald Sloan got the start tonight at the point, and despite some rough decisions early to post the team's lone double double, scoring 16 points on 6-13 shooting with 10 rebounds to go along a team high six assists. The game was Sloan's best as a professional with his points and rebounds both career highs. With Sloan as the only healthy point guard for the Pacers, these types of games would be a great advantage as they await the return of C.J. Watson and George Hill.
But as well as Sloan played tonight, these types of outbursts have proven unsustainable in his career thus far. Sloan has scored double digits in multiple games only three times in his 105 game career, part of that due to lack of opportunity, part of that due to who he is. As is the case with Hibbert's night, Sloan benefited as much as anyone from his opponents tonight.
Three other Pacers reached double figures with C.J. Miles leading them with 15 points. Miles was just 6-17 on the night, didn't appear to have much on his shot, but didn't fear shooting it, even as a detriment to his team, as was the case with a three point attempt with 10 seconds left in the third quarter with no shot clock that bricked, setting up Shved with a three to cut Indiana's lead to five.
Miles more and more seems like a feast or famine type shooter, which as mentioned throughout the preseason, isn't that much of a problem on a healthy roster with a player like Paul George, but becomes considerably less exciting on this team with its current makeup and needing Miles to make a certain type of impact. Chris Copeland (11) and Luis Scola (10) also reached double figures, but four turnovers for Scola and an icy 2-7 three point night from Copeland helped build on a lack of defensive prowess.
Lavoy Allen did provide a bit of defense in his time on the floor, with a pair of blocks to go with six points and five boards. As well did Ian Mahinmi, who was a force on the glass with nine rebounds, three offensive. Solomon Hill was fairly anonymous outside of his first quarter three pointer and six rebounds, and Damjan Rudez was one foul away from posting the rare 15 trillion. But with up and down performances, some of it's difficult to look at without taking note of the opponent being a Philadelphia team that wants to own the league's worst record.
It's not as if Indiana played a particularly great game. Poor decisions were endless throughout the game, from bad shots to defensive breakdowns to turnovers. Philadelphia had over half of their points in the paint, scoring 48, grabbing 15 offensive boards along the way. The Pacers were outshot from the free throw line, but benefited from the Sixers going 17-30 from the line.
As a work in progress with so many injuries and lack of cohesion, for the Pacers to grab a win to open the season is certainly rewarding, no matter the opposition. But Indiana will find where they stand when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. A fearsome starting lineup including Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, and Tony Allen will stand to threaten the positives Indiana found tonight without much remorse. The regular season may just be starting, but the first real concerns may make themselves clear just as quickly.