The energy and effort by the team, along with the atmosphere at the Fieldhouse was quite similar to last season’s opener, when no one was sure how all of the new faces would work for the Pacers and they posted a high-flying 140-131 win over the Nets.
But the win last night was different in a lot of ways.
Of course, the pace set in the opener last year was unsustainable and the defense that gave up 131, went on to continue giving up big numbers (over 108 per game) while going 1-2 over the next three games. As the season evolved, the Pacers offensive potency regressed to normal as the defense eventually caught up and became their best asset.
The win over the Grizz last night was equally exciting but far more substantive, showing us a style of play that this Pacers team can lean on all year to succeed.
”Last season we did get off to a good start, but I like what we did tonight,” Nate McMillan said.
Naturally, McMillan prefers his team to rebound and defend their way to wins as opposed to trying to run and gun their way there.
”We established ourselves defensively and we controlled the boards,” McMillan said. “When you’re limiting teams to one shot and they’re not getting anything in the paint, you can establish your pace which we were able to do tonight. We were able to get out and run, 20 fast break points. That’s something we want to do every night, but it starts at the defensive end of the floor.”
Even better, the Pacers controlled the game from tip to finish but left plenty of room for improvement.
”We definitely feel it was not our best game,” Thad Young said. “It was the first game and we played some sloppy basketball. We had 20 turnovers, but it was a very good game for us because we got that first win under out belt and now we can focus on the next team.”
Earning that first big win should feel much better this time around for a team that is quite comfortable playing together. Now going forward, the Pacers can build on the solid foundation of the firs win.
”Last season, there was a lot of uncertainty starting the season out with a new team, fresh faces,” Young said. “We didn’t know who was going to be that guy. This year, we know exactly how we’re going to play. We know the system, we know what we’re going to do out there as far as execution. Then the second unit just comes in an fills in very well for us.”
And fill in they did in the opener. The second unit was even better than the starters, pushing back the last gasp by the Grizz in the second half to bury the visitors and keep ‘em down at the start of the fourth quarter.
Now after that strong start, the Pacers face a stiff challenge against the Bucks, a team most project to leap frog the Pacers in the Central Division.
Here are a few other thoughts and observations from opening night at the Fieldhouse:
- The Pacers rebounded like they were trying to impress the 90’s era Davis boys, ending the game with a 57-28 advantage on the glass. From Media Day on through camp, Nate McMillan mentioned rebounding as a point of emphasis for this team to improve. After a performance that made it clear his team heard the message loud and clear, McMillan explained some of the method to his madness. He added value to rebounds during practice, giving offensive teams and extra point for ORebs in the paint while at the same time subtracting three points from the defensive team. With suicides on the line, the penalty for not going after the ball was steep enough to generate the effort. The team also didn’t complete any shooting drill until the ball was rebounded, further emphasizing they NEED THE BALL!
- Effort is a skill and the Pacers are as talented as any team in the league in this area. The results on the glass exemplified how the Pacers were willing to outwork the Grizzlies in the opener, but there were other examples, as well. The most glaring example came when Thad Young was trailing a Grizz transition play by a good 15-20 feet, but decided to sprint in that direction anyway. His effort was rewarded when Victor Oladipo slowed down Garrett Temple enough to allow Thad to swoop in and swat away what appeared to be an easy layup for Temple. Here’s a clip of the play and please not where Thad is when the ball is turned over. That’s a 90-foot sprint with an 18-point lead in the third quarter!
- Tyreke Evans made an impressive debut with 14 points and 6 assists off the bench. It quickly became apparent that his presence alters the second unit dramatically. The defense must account for Evans at all times which frees up air space for Cory Joseph and Doug McDermott. Evans’ ability to handle the ball and dish on the drive make him potent. He’s a bulldog with the ball, able to play physical in the paint, and while not fast with the ball, has the ability to adjust his pace with the ball to keep a defender off balance. He has all the good stuff about Lance Stephenson’s game minus the fun showmanship. But he will be far more consistent in his production. Prior to the game, Nate McMillan graded Tyreke’s preseason as just OK, explaining it was going to take some time to learn what he’s capable of doing with various combinations of players. McMillan was looking forward to the real games to get a better understanding of Reke’s game. Well, no doubt Coach liked what he saw from Evans in game one regardless of who was on the court with him, he’s ready to make plays.
-Speaking of playing combinations, we saw a couple of intriguing couplings with Evans and Oladipo playing just over five minutes together and the Pacers were plus-three during that time. Myles Turner and Domas Sabonis also played about five minutes together and wer a plus-four together.
- All of this and not much mention of Victor Oladipo? Early fouls and a big lead limited Vic’s minutes in the opener but he eventually got things rolling on offense, making 3 of 6 threes and finishing with 16 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds. Quality “off night” for the Pacers star, when we saw the Pacers put up a 23-point first half lead before Oladipo made a field goal. He did give us some feathery flair though, including a little homage to Lance. After shaking Garret Temple with a crossover, Vic then drained a three and headed back the other way with a little high-knees skip that would’ve made Lance proud.
- TJ Leaf played all of one minute before spraining his ankle. He tried like crazy to walk it off, but McMillan said after the game that the ankle swelled up pretty good and he wasn’t able to return. Of course, we’re left with day-to-day but that description doesn’t sound promising for Leaf to play over the weekend.
Please share what you liked along with any concerns from the opener in the comments.