Victor Oladipo finally showed signs of life and the Indiana Pacers again benefited from a well-rounded team effort, giving them a nice taste of revenge against a Charlotte Hornets team that torched them back in November. In that game, the Hornets shot 18-29 from three point range and tallied 105 points through three quarters in the rout, leaving little chance for the Pacers, who saw the game slip away quickly in the third quarter.
It was a game largely decided four minutes in despite Indiana’s best attempt to weather Charlotte’s shooting in the second quarter. Up 10-9, the Hornets hit back-to-back threes, pushing their lead to seven and setting the tone for what would ultimately be their night from beyond the arc.
Tonight’s game had almost the exact same tone setting play in the first quarter, this time in favor of the Pacers. Down 11-10 with five minutes to go, Darren Collison hit a three to take the lead. On the other end, Marvin Williams attempted to scale Mount Turner, getting stuffed at the rim.
Indiana scored the next seven to push their lead to nine, then put it on the Hornets with a dose of their own medicine, hitting three straight threes, jumping ahead 32-16 with 1:18 in the first. The Pacers had five threes, all coming in the last five minutes.
Three of those came from Myles Turner, who led the way in a big way for the Pacers in the first quarter, scoring nine points with six rebounds. With Turner controlling the game on both ends, Nate McMillan pulled him after his third three, which broke up Indiana’s momentum, allowing the Hornets to cut the lead in half heading into the second quarter.
Once there, the second unit was able to settle into their game, getting solid minutes from T.J. Leaf with two points and two blocks. Doug McDermott continued to struggle with his shot, but still got involved with a pair of assists to Domantas Sabonis and Tyreke Evans to again make it a double figure lead.
Indiana would maintain that double figure lead, heading into the break up 56-41, but the path there proved much rockier than the lead indicated. The Pacers won the quarter 22-15, relying heavily on Sabonis while continuing to get nothing but bricks from Bojan Bogdanovic and Victor Oladipo. The two combined for 4-16, which was just slightly better than the 3-16 the Hornets shot from three point range that helped Indiana hold them to just 41 first half points.
As expected, that three point shooting came around for the Hornets in the third quarter. They hit six in the quarter, bringing them back into the game, but the Pacers managed to keep Charlotte at arms’ length in large part due to Oladipo, who overcame his first half (and four game) struggles with an 11-point quarter.
Back-to-back threes from Miles Bridges brought the Hornets within six. Oladipo responded with a jumper, kicking off a 6-0 run with Sabonis to close the third back up 12. Despite the strong close to the third, the Pacers still couldn’t put a stamp on the game early in the fourth, that is until they got another big fourth from Tyreke Evans. Evans scored nine in a two minute stretch, pushing the Pacers over the top and into blowout territory for the 120-95 win.
Though the game was effectively wrapped up by Evans, McMillan still opted to run his starters well into garbage time. Typically this takes away from a chance to see more Aaron Holiday and Company, but tonight it granted some extra run for Oladipo and Bogdanovic, setting up a trio of fantastic plays, including a feathery Oladipo three, a last-year quality layup, and a whip to Bogdanovic in the corner for his lone three of the night.
Oladipo finished the night with 21 points, his most since January 4, complete with seven assists and three steals. Things didn’t look any different in the first half from Oladipo with his shots continuing to look forced. It looked to be another one of those nights where he would be required to make contributions elsewhere to offset his poor shooting, but his second half performance seemed a little more sure, hopefully a sign that he is turning the corner.
Bogdanovic as well pieced together a solid second half to finish with 16 points. He shot 5-8 in the second half, though he shied away completely from the three point game. His lone attempt came at the end of the fourth off of the Oladipo pass. It wasn’t a night when the Pacers needed his shooting, however. The Pacers were 14-27 from three point range, including multiple threes from four different Pacers, including Cory Joseph off the bench and Darren Collison in the starting lineup.
Collison had three, again starting quickly offensively to help take the weight off of Oladipo and Bogdanovic’s struggles. He had 11 points in the first half, finishing with 19 for the game, also finishing with nine assists, five of those coming in the first. Three of those went to the aforementioned slumpers, the other two going to Turner, as part of his three first quarter threes.
Turner scored nine in the first and finished with nine for the game. After an impressive opening quarter, the decision to bench him in the middle of his superb play had the Pacers move away from Turner as an option. He did stay involved, finishing with a game high 16 rebounds. Sabonis on the other hand took up the front court scoring, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds, playing a big part along with Leaf in helping the second unit settle into the game, scoring eight in the second quarter.
The Pacers continue to take advantage of their schedule by defeating teams that are under .500. The win moves the Pacers to 20-3 against sub .500 opponents, still top marks in the East. That shouldn’t diminish the individual wins, especially against an opponent like Charlotte that has had a lot of recent success against Indiana. However, these wins have not carried the same satisfaction, especially recently, when compared to the play against better opponents.
The lack of opportunities no doubt plays a factor in blowing out of proportion the losses they have had to other top teams in the East, but it’s hard to say that’s entirely the reasoning when they under perform to the level they did against Philadelphia.
The Pacers will have an opportunity to begin figuring things out against top flight opponents right away, however, when they host the Toronto Raptors at home to finish out their five game home stand on Wednesday. The long layoff, the healthy roster, and the encouraging finish to tonight’s game will have the excuses at a minimum as the Pacers look to get back at Toronto for a tough couple of games in Canada.