The Indiana Pacers pushed their winning streak to three games, securing a solid win against a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers team on the road. The Cavs dropped their fourth straight and are far from a competitive team at the moment, but the Pacers were still able to come in on the second night of a back-to-back and leave no doubt as to the outcome, wrapping up a 124-107 win.
The tone of the game was set early, when after a 6-2 Pacers lead, Cleveland appeared to settle in with an 8-0 run to take the lead. As a response, the Pacers scored the next 10, putting them back in the lead. That sort of fight showed up throughout the night, using big three point shooting throughout the night to guide them to the finish.
It was impressive to see the Pacers keep their composure in the face of questionable foul calls, inevitable Cavalier pushes, and even a LeBron James super show moment. As exciting as the start of this season has proven to been, it’s been hard to not look back at past seasons and how they’ve responded in these games, how easily they’ve given in, and how complacent they’ve been in simply moving on to the next game.
That sharp contrast has been eye-opening and it really has begun at the top of the roster. Victor Oladipo struggled in the first half at 1-6 shooting, but had a huge second half, scoring 20 points and guiding the Pacers to the win late. Up 97-94, Oladipo hit one of his five three pointers, as he would go onto contribute to 14 of Indiana’s 21 points in a five minute stretch to push the lead to 13 with eight points and three assists.
Where Oladipo helped close out the win, it was contributions throughout the team that got them in position. Bojan Bogdanovic had 14 of his 17 points in the first half, going 3-4 from deep and coming up with a pair of steals, including one from James, to provide a little life to an otherwise less-than-ideal matchup with James.
Bogdanovic’s play has been key in their last four wins; he’s shooting 59.1% and is 10-18 from three point range. In fact, Bogdanovic may be the single biggest difference maker for the Pacers so far this season. In wins, he’s got his full offensive arsenal on display, but in losses, he’s hitting just 11% of this threes and shooting just 31.8% overall.
Part of that comes in setting him up in positions to succeed. All six of Bogdanovic’s field goals were assisted on tonight, all six coming from both Oladipo and Darren Collison. Oladipo had seven assists on the night and Collison had eight. As a team, the Pacers had a season high 35 assists, their third 30-assist night of the season (as Chris Denari shared, such a night happened only six times all of last season).
Collison not only had a stellar assist/turnover ratio at 8:1, but scored 25 points on 9-10 shooting (3-3 from deep). That efficiency helped the Pacers weather a poor shooting night from Domantas Sabonis, something they haven’t been able to do until tonight. Sabonis was just 6-15, but still had a solid night with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists, his sixth consecutive double figure rebounding game and his fifth double double of the season.
Thaddeus Young rounded out a fantastic showing from the Indiana starters with his best night of the season. Young entered the game leading the league in hustle stats, some 4.9 deflections a game, and he added to that total tonight when he came away with four steals, accenting a 26 point night on 12-18 shooting.
Nate McMillan adjusted his rotation a bit tonight, limiting Al Jefferson to a few early minutes, getting Sabonis some action in the second unit, and bringing in Damien Wilkins, who rewarded McMillan with some hustle plays, including a team high two offensive rebounds.
In the second unit, Cory Joseph led the way with nine points and six assists, hitting a pair of threes, but the struggles of Lance Stephenson continues. While he had five rebounds and three assists, he went scoreless on 0-4 shooting and it’s hard to guess where Stephenson’s shot is. T.J. Leaf looked good in his minutes, scoring five points, even following up his lone miss with a nifty play around the basket.
He also had a three pointer, as Indiana shot a staggering 16-26 from deep, a huge difference compared to Cleveland’s 7-31 night. Those nine extra threes, along with a healthy 16-6 advantage in fast break points, fueled the Pacers towards the win.
It’s hard not to wonder how much longer this team can keep this level of play up, but they’ve shown that simply bringing a high level of energy every night will put in the games in ways they simply have not been in past seasons. The Pacers are off to their best start since 2013 and a big reason for that is that not once has that effort been questioned in eight games. That’s an invaluable trait for any team, especially one that plays in Indiana.
The Pacers will take their three game winning streak on the road Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, who will also enter on their own three game winning streak, coming together after a sluggish start. The Pacers will have their hands full of both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, offering a different challenge than one they faced against Minnesota a week ago.