The Indiana Pacers were unable to complete a perfect preseason, falling in the fourth quarter to the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Pacers fell flat offensively in the first half, shooting 32%, but extended minutes for the second unit in the third helped turn the game in their favor. Karl-Anthony Towns reversed fortunes for Minnesota in the fourth, guiding them to the exhibition W.
The scoreboard may not have favored the Pacers, but the on-court product was well worth taking in, especially in that third quarter. After logging some fairly heavy minutes in the preseason, the Indiana starters rested all second half, opening up showcase opportunities for the second and third stringers, most of which brought some real moments, not the least of which being first round draft pick Goga Bitadze in his first action of the preseason.
The elusive nature of Bitadze’s on-court debut didn’t overshadow his actual contributions as he joined Doug McDermott in leading the team in scoring with 14 points. Bitadze showed out, especially offensively, where he finished 6-9 from the floor and 2-3 from three point range. While his feel for the game is a bit raw, especially in terms of defensive assignments and ball control (committing a team high six turnovers).
However, when you’ve got another big who can step out in rhythm, it’s hard not to be excited with this debut.
MCUH more in rhythm on the second one. He's got 12 points on 7 shots: pic.twitter.com/Gb9NwC0Yjd— Tony East (@TEastNBA) October 16, 2019
Joining Bitadze with 14 was McDermott, who was lights out from three point range, going 4-5. McDermott has had some nice flashes this preseason in how he has played near the rim, but tonight he stepped out into three point range, playing excellent in rhythm himself. Together, the duo combined for for 6-8 shooting from deep, helping out an otherwise iffy showcase from the Pacers outside, finishing 13-35 as a team.
The starters had three, two from Malcolm Brogdon, but also one, straight away, from Domantas Sabonis. Sabonis logged a double double in 17 minutes, finishing with 11 points and 13 rebounds. His activity in the first quarter alone was a big factor in keeping the Pacers within reach despite poor shooting. Myles Turner had eight himself with two blocks in 17 minutes, and played strong inside, all three of his makes coming in the paint.
Back off the bench, there were some nice stretches from Justin Holiday and Edmond Sumner, including a fun sequence in the fourth quarter that helped push Sumner into double figures with 11. Holiday got on the floor to save a possession that found its way to Sumner. Holiday then stole the inbounds, handing off to Sumner for a wide open three that went.
The younger Aaron Holiday didn’t fare so well, finishing with nine points on 3-12 shooting. A. Holiday was just 1-6 from three point range, and didn’t have much of a touch at all on his shot. Despite his struggles shooting, he did well to avoid mistakes, committing zero turnovers. While he’s ahead of T.J. McConnell in the rotation, McConnell again provided rock steady point guard play, scoring 10 points with eight assists in 20 minutes. Beyond Holiday’s struggles, both T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb struggled offensively in their limited minutes, shooting a combined 2-11 for six points.
T.J. Leaf looked much better in his second game, finishing with points and six rebounds, playing much closer to the positive T.J. Leaf than the fair to middling T.J. Leaf that was on display against Chicago. He was second off the bench in rebounding behind Alize Johnson, who had five points and eight boards, including a three of his own.
The Pacers wrap up preseason play at 3-1, having been largely successful in getting solid contributions from both newcomers and returning players alike. Without focusing much on end results, it’s hard to know what exactly will translate when this starting lineup that logged heavy minutes against Chicago’s backups goes against other starters late, or how a bench with Bitadze fairs against other second units, as opposed to healthy doses of Towns level players.
The regular season will begin on October 23rd, with the Pacers starting at home to face the Detroit Pistons. It will be the first of two meetings in the opening week of the season, and one of three in the first couple of weeks, providing an especially great test out of the gate for the Turner/Sabonis pairing against another big front line in Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin.