In just one half of basketball, the Indiana Pacers had their entire season turned upside down, a hard-nosed effort against the Toronto Raptors leading to the loss of Victor Oladipo to a knee injury. With just over four minutes in the half, Oladipo was chasing down Pascal Siakam in a fast break, his knee buckled, and he was down.
Instantly, Oladipo knew there was a problem. He looked down at his knee and immediately ushered the training staff over for help. The knee was covered in a towel and he would not stand up, eventually placed upon a stretcher and taken off the court, waving to the fans in what may be the last time he’s in a Pacers jersey this season.
The severity of the injury won’t be fully known until tomorrow when Oladiop is taken for an MRI. The official word from the Pacers, however, was that he suffered “a serious knee injury to his right knee.” Those alone are hardly encouraging words, but the initial take may have become even bleaker with Adrian Wojnarowski tweeting that the injury could in fact be season-ending.
There’s nothing to prepare anybody on how to react to an injury like this, least of all Oladipo’s teammates, who still had 28 minutes of basketball left to play. To that point, the Pacers were leading by eight, getting there on tremendous energy from both the team and the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The air left the building, but the team gathered just enough focus to push the lead to 12 at halftime.
Thaddeus Young was the catalyst, scoring the first points after the injury and finishing the final four minutes with four points, three rebounds, and an assist. Out of the half, it was Young again getting Indiana on the board with a three pointer, joined by Bojan Bogdanovic, who had eight in the quarter.
The Pacers led by nine heading into the fourth, but were forced to contend with a surging Raptors team. Indiana had done a solid job defensively, but in the fourth could not get the key stops, allowing the Raptors to score on seven of eight possessions, including a number of second chance opportunities.
Through it all, Young was there to keep Toronto at bay, scoring eight in that stretch as well as pulling in rare rebounds and stops with the lead at four in the final four minutes. The failure to corral a rebound with 33 seconds left led to a Danny Green three, cutting the lead to just one.
On the other end, Indiana worked the clock down and got an answer from none other than their emotional leader, helping seal the 110-106 victory.
Young led the way for the Pacers on and off the court tonight, scoring a game high 23 points with 15 rebounds, three assists, and a pair of blocks and steals. Afterwards, he spoke to Jeremiah Johnson about the effort. JJ asked Young about the big plays he made throughout the second half and Young was quick to credit his teammates for the success, talking about sticking together through thick and thin.
It did become a full team effort, something the Pacers have relied on even with Oladipo’s recent struggles. This is much different, however, but everyone stepped up in a big way to help hold off the fourth quarter surge from the Raptors. Darren Collison had 17 points and eight assists, 10 coming in the second half, including a big jumper with under two minutes to break a two minute scoring drought.
He and Bogdanovic combined 17 points in the third quarter with Bogdanovic finishing with 16. He joined Young as the only players on the team to hit multiple threes. The Pacers were 9-26 overall, hitting just enough to keep pace with the 12 Toronto hit. Myles Turner hit one of his own early in the game, finishing with a 13 point, 10 rebound double double, finishing with four blocks, three of those coming in the second half. He hit two clutch free throws in the final minute as well.
Off the bench, Domantas Sabonis led the way with 12 points, limited to just 14 minutes with foul trouble on a night with very shaky officiating on both ends. Tyreke Evans finished with 11, stepping into extended minutes in the second half, icing the game in the final 10 seconds for the win.
As a team, the Pacers showed tremendous composure throughout the night. They shot a shaky 43.5% for the game, but never allowed the missed layups or the constant in-and-out shots to wear them down. They struggled mightily on the offensive glass late, but won a stingy turnover battle game with just seven, outscoring Toronto 13-5 off of those turnovers.
The win is Indiana’s third straight, wrapping up their home stand at 4-1. The W is always nice, especially in a big game against a top Eastern Conference opponent. However, the reality of the situation and the value of the win shifted dramatically with Oladipo’s injury. Assuming the reports of it being a season-ending one are true, it changes the expectations wholesale for what the Pacers will be expected to accomplish not only this year, but potentially beyond that.
Corey Elliott tweeted about the potential severity of Oladipo’s kneecap back in December as Oladipo geared up for his return to action. For the injury to be at his kneecap after weeks of him not looking quite right makes this that much scarier, but again, more will be known tomorrow. In the meantime, the team spoke at lengths about Oladipo’s positivity regarding the injury, and his twin sister Victoria shared just that.
Spoke to Vic and he’s in great spirits he is the strong one he’s always been strong for the both of us!— Victoria Olay. (@OLAYitdown) January 24, 2019
As for the Pacers moving forward, Kevin Pritchard built this team to be better equipped for injury than last year and Indiana has found a fair amount of success with Oladipo out, sitting at 7-4. They’re still 3rd in the East at 32-15, but these last 35 games are going to be a real challenge.
There’s still a lot left for this Pacers team to accomplish with or without Oladipo. The playoffs are almost assured even with 35 left to play. They are 11 games up on the 9th place Pistons, but whether they can hold off both Philadelphia and Boston for home court will be the much more difficult task. The Brooklyn Nets are also surging, sitting seven back of Indiana in sixth place.
The schedule does not favor the Pacers in the immediate future, however. Five of their next six will be on the road with the one home game being against Golden State. Indiana will hit the road for a night on Saturday, when they wrap up their season series against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Prayers up to Vic!