During a week in which Ponytail Myles became an internet sensation and Victor Oladipo returned to the lineup after an 11-game absence, Thaddeus Young’s typically quiet, periphery contributions spoke loud.
Spearheading a 3-0 record to extend Indiana’s win streak to six games, the lefty power forward averaged 21.7 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 55 percent from the field. In addition to tripling down on double-doubles, Young scored a season-high 25 points against the Bucks and then broke that season-high two nights later against the Sixers with 26, stringing together consecutive outings of 25-plus points for the first time since 2014.
On the other end of the floor, Indiana held Washington, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia to a miserly 92.2 points per 100 possessions in the 110 minutes that the 30-year-old’s elastic defense was on the floor.
It was Thaddeus Young at his most Thaddeus Young, a role player tour de force warranting a deep dive into his best moments from his best week with the Pacers.
Indiana went into the game against Milwaukee with the obvious intention of forcing “others” to beat them, and when those same “others” started the game an ice cold 2-of-17 from three the Pacers had carte blanche to be brazenly aggressive crowding Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was held to a season-low 12 points on seven shots.
A similar approach was employed in the second half against Ben Simmons after Thaddeus Young asked the coaching staff to switch him onto the genetically gifted floor general in order to provide stiffer resistance against his ability to make advanced reads and glide down the lane in transition.
Even so, like an oaken door holding firm against the relentless battering ram of elite size and athleticism, Young provided the swarming attack strategy with its sting.
For example, when Giannis Antetokounmpo caught this pass as the trailer with Darren Collison and Myles Turner collapsing toward the nail, the lanky stat sheet stuffer looked as though he was prepared to get Young off-balance going right so he could catch him with his patented Gyro-step and proceed to attack Turner with his speed and limitless reach.
Instead, Young kept his body between Antetokounmpo and the basket and left no room for evasive maneuvers.
In Philadelphia, Thad wasn’t about to let a miscue slide without repercussions.
Here’s what happened: At the same moment as Ben Simmons thought J.J. Redick was setting a high-post rub for him to explode to the basket, Redick was preparing to ghost the screening action to confuse the defensive coverage.
Uninhibited by the faux screen, Young embraced the contact when the 6-foot-10 guard with the 7-foot wingspan barreled over him after having already lowered his shoulder in anticipation of depressing the nitrous button with his overwhelming first step.
Iso bully ball
There was a little less than a two-minute stretch near the end of the second quarter of the game against Milwaukee in which Indiana’s entire offense basically boiled down to just letting Thaddeus Young do mean things to Stirling Brown.
When Milwaukee’s scrappy defender attempted to attach himself to the power forward’s right hip in anticipation of him turning middle to get back to his left hand, Young got low and backed up the smaller 220-pound wing almost as if to say, “Huh-uh, I make the decisions around here.”
With that in mind, forcing Indiana’s Swiss army knife to spin baseline into help from Giannis Antetokounmpo’s sprawling limbs seemed like a win.. that is, until that whole part where he still managed to get back to his dominant hand and convert the lay-up in-between two defenders.
The cherry on top?
When Brown fouled him on the face-up attempt on the next possession, Thad went to the free throw line and made **gasps** both free throws.
And, here’s the thing: Per Synergy, Young has only shot 40 percent on post-ups this season, a mark which ranks 41st among the 49 players with at least 40 such plays, but for roughly those 100 seconds he was unstoppable, a testament to Indiana’s refusal to spite the hot hand that feeds them.
Filling the gaps
Young went on a similar, and yet vastly different, tear late in the game against the Sixers by finding crevices in the defense.
When Sabonis got a switch with T.J. McConnell fronting him on the block, Young flashed into the mid-paint and converted one of his unique floating flip shot things as soon as Embiid went to provide help on the backside of the mismatch.
The 12-year veteran also made sure to take advantage of what happened in the first meeting between the two teams as well in the third quarter.
After Oladipo sliced up Philly’s middle pick-and-roll defense to the tune of 36 points in early November, the Sixers responded by having Embiid come out a little higher or switch to prevent him from getting comfy pulling up from mid-range. Meanwhile, once Bojan Bogdanovic lit them up for 11 points in the third, Furkan Korkmaz was reluctant to stray too far from home to bump the roller.
The result was Thad getting free passage down the lane to finish with his strong hand around Embiid at rim.
Indiana got 11 points from Young in the game’s final frame without him being the first, or sometimes even the second or third, option.
Given Embiid’s propensity for committing turnovers when confronted with double-teams in the post as well as Philadelphia’s lack of shooting, the Pacers shouldn’t have waited until the Cameroonian unicorn had racked up 28 points and 14 rebounds to start sending extra bodies to him on the block.
Still, this was ballsy.
Prior to this possession in the second half, the Pacers had mostly stuck with sending help from the high-side, particularly from Oladipo, who is quick enough to jump in and out of the lane to dig the post player and still recover to his man on the perimeter.
Here, though, Young released himself from Ben Simmons under the basket and ambushed Embiid from the opposite side of where the double teams had been coming as if he were a car unexpectedly appearing from the big man’s blind spot.
If Thad doesn’t come up with that strip, Simmons is most assuredly getting a wide open dunk.
Talk about betting on yourself.
Less charitable at the charity stripe
This may appear like a tiny footnote in comparison to his other immense contributions, but Thad going 14-of-17 from the free throw line over the last two games shouldn’t be ignored. Not only because he shot 54.8 percent from the line through the first 27 games of the season, but also because it was the first time in his career in which he attempted eight or more free throws in back-to-back games.
That’s no small feat.
In his 12th season and still operating without a reliable jump shot in an age greased by spread fours, Young’s contributions last week weren’t just hard to ignore; they were game-changing.