There was a new look for the Indiana Pacers in their trek West for their debut in Las Vegas Summer League. Not only did they get fresh uniforms, breaking from the traditional Orlando warm-ups, there was actually a crowd beyond team officials to watch the action live, something entirely unfamiliar to the Pacers and their fans.
In looking towards the action on the court, the Pacers led for stretches in the first half, but surrendered a 14-0 run late in the second quarter to fall behind for good. The Rockets never blew the game wide open, but Indiana’s ability to string together stops and capitalize on their opportunities kept them just shy, resulting in a 92-89 loss in the opening game.
There were a number of positives despite the loss, however, especially in the showcasing of Indiana’s 2018 Draft Class. Aaron Holiday shined in his debut, leading the Pacers to a second quarter lead with 14 first half points. Holiday finished with a game high 23, shooting 9-15 from the floor and showcasing his scoring abilities inside and out.
Holiday’s craftiness lived up to the hype and it will be interesting to see how his ability to score will translate into a second unit where Tyreke Evans will likely be the primary focus. To that note, Holiday’s playmaking as a point guard was lacking a bit, coming up with three assists to five turnovers (and seven fouls), though it was easier to see his need to score in this lineup rather than be a facilitator.
Largely though, Holiday’s size didn’t appear to be a deterrent, but had times when he was met at the rim and wasn’t locked in defensively. Again, the latter may be tough to gauge on the style of play in Summer League, but Holiday did appear to show a knack for finding the ball, coming up with three steals and three offensive rebounds.
As the Pacers attempted to work themselves back into the game in the second half, much of the positive stretches were led by Alize Johnson. Johnson had a big game, scoring 15 off the bench, 11 of those coming in the second half, cutting the lead to three after his last buckets.
Johnson entered this Summer League with a reputation for rebounding, but what came after the rebounds was more interesting. Johnson had just three on the night, but two of those led to him leading the fast break as a ball-handler, both times giving the Pacers an easy bucket on the other end, including this behind the back beauty to Holiday.
Johnson may not see a lot of time this upcoming season, but it will be easy to find reasons to cheer him on when he does take the floor. Johnson brought in a reputation as a hard-worker and showed it in full force. It will be interesting to see how that effort will carry over into a back-to-back situation.
The Pacers also saw a pair of double figure games from Alex Poythress and Travis Leslie. Leslie, a Summer League vet for the Pacers, tends to show up in these games and today was no different, scoring 15 off the bench. Leslie helped push the Pacers into the lead at the end of the first, and drew the game to within three with six seconds left.
Poythress, who was waived by the Pacers earlier, had some positives of his own, scoring 13 points. Poythress outplayed fellow two-way players Ben Moore (zero points, two steals) and Edmond Sumner (four points, three assists), but the Pacers opted to move on from his contract before it was guaranteed for a full $1.5 million.
Poythress also outplayed T.J. Leaf, who will be under contract for this upcoming season. Leaf bulking up this offseason is certainly noticeable, but his play in this opening game left much to be desired. Leaf was just 2-14 for four points, both easy plays at the rim. Leaf was 0-4 from three point range, and he wasn’t that close. Leaf looked way out of sorts, though he did have some plays on the glass that he’s fully capable of making.
It’s possible Leaf will go full Redemption Tour in tomorrow’s game, but this new and unfamiliar Summer League format gives players an unknown number of opportunities to showcase themselves. That there are only four guaranteed games on the schedule makes it an obvious disappointment that Leaf would come up so short in this game.
The second game of the Las Vegas Summer League will take place tomorrow afternoon when the Pacers face the San Antonio Spurs.