It’s hard to start much better than the Indiana Pacers did tonight; in fact, their 111-83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies was the biggest opening night win in franchise history. The Pacers got there by controlling nearly every aspect of the game, from rebounding to fast breaks.
Indiana never trailed, expanding their lead to 25 late in the second quarter. The most precarious situation the Pacers found themselves in following the break was Memphis cutting the lead to 14 halfway through the third. Sloppy play was one of the only downsides Indiana had all night, and their stretches early in the first and third were the widest opportunities the Grizzlies had to capitalize.
The Pacers had 20 turnovers on the night, twice as many as Memphis. Indiana would actually win the battle off turnovers, outscoring the Grizzlies 16-11 by getting back in transition, but taking away possessions from themselves on a night when they shot 56.6% from the field proved the larger issue in this particular game. When the Pacers righted themselves, they pushed the lead as high as 32 in the fourth.
Seven Pacers reached double figures in the win, with nearly everyone stepping in to contribute to the victory. The Pacers were a best-case scenario tonight in terms of their depth as the retooled bench made every effort to make a positive first impression. In total, the second (and third) units scored 58 points, with all four players in double figure minutes reaching double figure points.
This was led by Domantas Sabonis, who picked up an opening night double double of 14 points and 15 rebounds. Sabonis led the way for a dominating effort on the glass, with the Pacers as a team outrebounding Memphis 57-28. Sabonis had six offensive rebounds, one shy of Memphis’s seven, leading to seven second chance points.
Part of Sabonis’s success was due to the much-anticipated pick and roll game between Sabonis and Tyreke Evans. Evans found Sabonis for four of his six assists, helping ease Evans into a successful first outing. Evans scored 14 points on 6-12 shooting, four of his five misses coming from three point range, to go with the six assists and four rebounds.
Cory Joseph scored 11 himself on 5-7 shooting with six rebounds and three assists. Both he and Evans played well together, but it will be interesting to see how Nate McMillan and the coaching staff work with both of them as ball-handlers given Evans is a more reliable and effective ball handler than Lance Stephenson. The two had just three of their 11 field goals assisted on, none coming from the other.
Doug McDermott also had a successful debut, scoring 12 points by going towards the baske—wait, going towards the basket?
DOUG MCDERMOTT PUNISHES THIS BASKETBALL! The @Pacers are having fun at Bankers Life.— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) October 18, 2018
Tune in now FSI and the FOX Sports app. #Pacers pic.twitter.com/aa4RPnf3vB
So he can do that. McDermott was only 1-5, all of his misses came from three point range, but he showed a surprising amount of versatility in his ability to score, which will be useful on the nights when he is working to find his stroke from deep. The four man bench, featuring a healthy dose of Thaddeus Young all had +/- at or above +20.
The success of the bench, also featuring some light run from Edmond Sumner, with an impressive block at the three point line (that came just after the buzzer), an Indy Cornrows fresh Aaron Holiday calling bank for his first NBA points, and Kyle O’Quinn finishing with three rebounds and three assists in four minutes should cause pause for Pacers fans who have been burned by “new and improved” benches over the year, but the debut of this unit was very exciting. It could also work because it appears that the talent level is there, unlike past years with D.J. Augustins and Gerald Greens needing to essentially play above themselves to reach this level.
While knocking on wood for the rest of the night, it was at least nice to get a game where the starters didn’t have to be so heavily relied on to carry the load for the Pacers. In fact, they largely played supporting roles to the bench, but outside of Darren Collison struggling shooting, everyone played well. A rocky start plagued with turnovers was salvaged by Bojan Bogdanovic, who scored the first six of the night for the Pacers, finishing with 19 on the game, going 7-9 and 3-3 from behind the arc.
Young was a big part of Indiana’s success in simply playing his game. He had 10 points and eight rebounds, three offensive, fighting for second chance opportunities, setting up six points for the Pacers. He was joined by Myles Turner in the rebounding game, with Turner also scoring eight.
All of this was done with Victor Oladipo scoring just a single point in the first 17 minutes of game action. Oladipo would step up to help ensure the Grizzlies would have no comeback attempt, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds, and five assists, including his first highlight of the season, shaking Garrett Temple on a three pointer.
Victor Oladipo crosses into the triple! #Pacers #KiaTipOff18 pic.twitter.com/NXHhZEIHAz— NBA (@NBA) October 18, 2018
Tonight did end Oladipo’s streak of consecutive games with a steal at 64 as the Pacers as a team had just two steals total, an unfamiliar result for a Pacers team that had two or less steals just once all of last year. The Pacers were also 1-5 last year when totaling less than five steals, which makes this end result all that more impressive.
There really wasn’t a better way to start the season for the Pacers. Sure they struggled with turnovers and went just 5-11 from the free throw line, but there was plenty of room for optimism in the win. However, it is fair to ask how good the Grizzlies will be this season. Certainly they can’t expect to find much success with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol combining for 5-22 shooting, but there’s room for growth with their roster to suggest that they could be a vastly different opponent when the two teams play in Memphis on January 26.
In the meantime, the Pacers will shift their attention to their first road game of the year, facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. The Bucks will be in their own home opener, opening the brand new Fiserv Forum and appear to be Indiana’s main rival in the new-look Central Division.