The Pacers, with eight players in double figures, scored more points on Wednesday night than they did during any game last season. They launched more three-pointers (34) than they did during any regulation-length contest last season, and they played at a much faster pace (116.58) than their fastest game last season (107.92). Meanwhile, Victor Oladipo — resembling some sort of hybrid cross between a one-man wrecking crew and a blur — racked up 12 points on four field goal attempts while chipping in two steals during the first quarter alone, and Domantas Sabonis scored 16 points in 19 minutes, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the field.
So much so that it nearly camouflaged the fact that Nate McMillan left Myles Turner on the floor when Sabonis checked into the game not once, but (gasp) twice.
It may not happen often, but when it does it deserves undivided attention.
Granted, they were only on the floor together for five cumulative minutes, but that’s more simultaneous playing time than the pair of 21-year-old big men logged during the entire preseason. The main difference on opening night was that T.J. Leaf’s minutes were cut by more than half, which opened up brief, yet informative, windows near the end of both the first and third quarters where Sabonis was assigned to Trevor Booker, thereby challenging Turner’s already somewhat limited ability to defend in space.
Take this possession, for instance. Considering that Indiana’s guards had practically displayed All-Star Game-level commitment to perimeter containment, notice how high Turner is showing on the pick-and-roll to divert Jeremy Lin away from turning the corner.
Now, checkout how much ground he frantically has to makeup in order to sprint back to his man, Quincy Acy, behind the arc after sliding a few steps with Lin.
Here, Turner faces another tough cover. He manages to successfully force the side pick-and-roll action with Spencer Dinwiddie to the sideline, but there’s no way he can recover to Acy, who ends up draining his second long ball of the frame.
There was also this possession where he continued to operate as the center, hanging back in the paint, even though Acy was lingering in the corner. Fortunately, Caris LeVert opted to have his shot erased by Turner at the rim rather than find his teammate wide open for three.
If these lineups are on the floor again, especially considering that Booker attempted almost 70 percent of his shots within 8 feet of the basket last season, McMillan should test whether Sabonis is also a step slow on the perimeter so that Turner can stay at home in the lane and protect the rim.
Offensively, however, the 22-and-under centers are more interchangeable and could perhaps become dangerous.
With two bigs capable of picking and popping on the floor, even a simple drive managed to rattle Brooklyn’s admittedly porous interior defense. Below, because Booker doesn’t want to stray too far out of range from Turner’s high release, Acy is forced to slow Joseph and leave Sabonis, who crashes hard toward the rim and converts the wide open dunk.
Here, the opposite ends up being the case. After Collison shakes Lin coming off the pick, Booker positions his body to deter the speedy guard from making a pocket pass to Turner. Recognizing, then, that DeMarre Carroll has to step into the paint to stop the ball, Sabonis backpedals along the baseline to create a passing angle for Collison and proceeds to knock down the 17-foot jump shot.
Along with the flashes of nifty footwork, heady passes, and gritty rebounding he’s already shown, it’s this sort of recognition by the son of Arvydas Sabonis which demonstrates that he also understands what to do with regard to maintaining space.
“...That kid can play basketball man,” Victor Oladipo told the Indy Star’s Jim Ayello. “You got glimpse of that tonight ... You'll see more of that throughout the rest of the season."
Thus far, Sabonis has impressed as a rotation big playing the position by which he appears more naturally suited. However, if he continues to blossom, he’ll also have to find a way to thrive playing alongside Myles Turner.
Or, be stuck playing behind him.
For that reason, subsequent bursts of those same five minutes that may have seemed mundane in comparison to Indiana’s uptempo scoring outburst could end up carrying plenty of meaning.