The Indiana Pacers pieced together an impressive fourth quarter to move to 2-0 in preseason play, topping the Cleveland Cavaliers late. The fourth quarter comeback was staged in large part by T.J. Leaf, who scored all 18 of his points in the final 12 minutes. Leaf had been invisible for the game to the point, but exploded in the fourth, shooting 4-5 from three point range.
It wasn’t just Leaf’s shooting touch that was on point in the quarter, he used it to his advantage in putting the ball on the floor and driving past the defender for an easy layup or foul. Not only was Leaf a positive sign late, but so to was Domantas Sabonis, coming through in a big way tonight after struggling mightily to score on Wednesday.
Sabonis had 17 points on 6-8 shooting, scoring in all sorts of ways around the basket and from beyond the arc. The play of the two throughout the game was especially positive given the general inefficiency of the bench as a whole. Lance Stephenson had 12 points, but was erratic in his shot selection and Cory Joseph finished just 1-7, his lone shot made sending him to the bench. Damien Wilkins meanwhile, did not offer up much of an encore for his impressive preseason debut.
Within the starting lineup, the Pacers found themselves in a deep hole early due to a woeful offensive start. Indiana fell behind 19-5 by missing 10 consecutive shots and committing three turnovers. During the stretch, the Pacers did themselves no favors in their style of play; erratic shots in a no-pass offense led to a predictable stretch of poor basketball.
The life the Pacers found late in the first was in running the offense through Myles Turner. Turner offered up the first of his two blocks on soft Kevin Love layups to kick off a stretch in which he scored six points and had a pair of assists in a three minute stretch.
The difference was minimal on the scoreboard due to Cleveland’s three point shooting, but it was a stretch that highlighted what Turner will ultimately mean to this team’s success. His ability to control the game on both ends of the floor, even at the same time, is the single biggest difference making potential this Pacers team has, especially if there’s going to be inefficiency in his main running mate in Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo finished 6-12 with 14 points, but didn’t see a shot he didn’t like early, hitting his first two, then pulling into three long jumpers as the Cavs built their lead and the Pacers offense stagnated. Oladipo would eventually lead Indiana in assists with five as the offense pushed back into something more constructed.
That kind of adjustment is hard to see take form in preseason when seeing more rigid rotation sets, and it continues to be difficult to see exactly what this team is and can be when going against two teams who are without their best players. The third game of the preseason may offer some more concrete assessments when Indiana faces the Detroit Pistons on Monday.