The Indiana Pacers entered a brave new world in their preseason debut against the Sacramento Kings, getting big play from their offense to overcome some real defensive lapses in the win. Not only was it a great debut for the new-look Pacers in the NBA India Games, but it will also end up being one of the most exciting games of the 2019-20 season; and it didn’t even count.
Both the Pacers and the Kings looked surprisingly sharp in the game, not only for the amount of distance traveled to get to Mumbai, Maharashtra in India, but in it being the first preseason game for both teams, usually rife with bricks and rust. Sacramento jumped ahead early on hot shooting, but even as they casually built a 39-point first quarter, the offensive showing from the Pacers was still encouraging, especially from Domantas Sabonis, who had six points in the quarter before getting bloodied up by an elbow to the temple.
Sacramento pushed the lead to 21 points in the second quarter, leading 59-38 halfway through. Indiana would outscore the Kings 21-10 from that point to bring the game to 10, but would trail by 13 at the break after Yogi Ferrell’s buzzer beating heave from beyond half-court. That three didn’t stem the tide of Indiana’s momentum as they opened up the third quarter on a tear.
The Pacers started the half on a 17-5 run, bringing themselves to within a point. They’d be unable to overcome that deficit for the remainder of the quarter, however, with a five-point deficit after the third slowly growing throughout the fourth. Harrison Barnes pushed Sacramento up 118-111 with 1:21 left in the game, appearing to put the stamp on a close-but-not-quite-good-enough effort from the Pacers.
However, Myles Turner and Jeremy Lamb would each score while the defense came up with two key stops, giving the Pacers the ball down three with 10.2 seconds remaining. Out of the timeout, Brogdon whipped the inbounds to T.J. Warren, who leaned into a game-tying three.
Also pictured in this clip is Turner’s overtime forcing block on De’Aaron Fox. Generally, there’s nothing less enticing than preseason overtime, but maybe it was the many months away, or maybe it was the unique feel this particular game had with all the new faces that made free basketball in the preseason something enjoyable to watch.
Once in the extra period, Indiana made good on their comeback, continuing to cruise offensively with big bucket after big bucket to build a 132-129 lead with 17 seconds left. Unfortunately, a five-second violation set up the Kings on the other end with a chance to tie as Buddy Hield saw a good look bank in and out, granting the Pacers the much coveted preseason W.
While there was a lot of defensive struggles from the Pacers early, they did do a good job leveling the game out in their advantage in the second half. The Kings were shooting over 70% into the second quarter, but they wound up under 50% for the game and the Pacers allowed just 46 points in the second half after no doubt hearing it from Nate McMillan and Dan Burke in the locker room after letting up 72 in the first half.
Defense may be an issue throughout the season for the Pacers, but they still managed to manufacture 11 steals, leading to 21 fast break points. They also did an excellent job granting themselves extra offensive possessions with 14 offensive rebounds (as part of a +17 effort on the glass as a whole).
In the absence of bad shot making that is typical in the opening preseason game, both teams made up for in other ways, particularly in the way of turnovers. The Pacers had 25 turnovers, but still managed to win the points off turnover battle 33-29. Of those 25 miscues, nine were traveling violations, including seven in the second half and overtime.
As exciting as this game was offensively, these violations, and a bevy of whistles dragged this game out to almost excruciating degree. Not only were there 47 turnovers, but also 60 foul calls (leading to 69 free throw shots) which absolutely sacrificed any real game flow. The real crime of it all was that the amount of stoppage wasn’t even that egregious, but simply a case of both teams manifesting their rust in different ways than expected.
Comparing game flow between this and the back-to-back finale will be an interesting test in seeing how the Pacers, Kings, and the League adjust, but despite the stoppage and turnovers, there was a lot of really exciting things going on offensively with the Pacers on the offensive end of the ball.
Much of that began with Brogdon, who was a masterful playmaker in this game. Brogdon finished with 15 points and 14 assists, going 2-4 from beyond the arc on a pair of deep, deep threes. His passing, however, was the real standout in his performance. The ability to make the perfect pass in transition or within the offense opened up so many opportunities for the Pacers offense, helping all five starters reach double figures.
Warren would lead the way in scoring for the Pacers with 30 points, including a lights-out 5-6 from three point range. It also wasn’t even a difficult 30 for Warren to reach. Eight of his 11 field goals were assisted on, five of those directly from Brogdon. It had always been difficult to pinpoint Warren’s impact in Phoenix, but it was a little easier to see in this game. Whether there’s consistency in it, however, will be an interesting next step.
Lamb also had an impressive preseason debut, scoring 20. He was also assisted on a majority of his field goals, but did the most work of any Pacer from the line, going 7-8. The common theme between he and Warren is in just how much more capable the Pacers appear to be in terms of simply being able to score the ball. The performances from all three may be high water marks to some degree, but it was also a complete sea change in what Indiana as a franchise has had the past couple of years in terms of scoring.
Up front, the Sabonis/Turner front line offered some positive signs as well, with Sabonis absolutely wrecking the Sacramento defense for 21 points and 12 rebounds with Turner scoring 11 with 13 rebounds and two key blocks late. They totaled 12 of Indiana’s 14 offensive rebounds and were a +13 on the floor together. Both showed good decision making in terms of when to attack and when to pass, though Turner continued to look away from three point attempts, faking a number of attempts in an 0-1 showing.
Off the bench, there was a much wider variance in terms of positives and negatives. Doug McDermott led the way with nine points, picking up largely where he was last season in terms of his uptick in abilities playing closer to the basket as opposed to his billing as a three point specialist. Edmond Sumner had some exciting highs in his play offensively, flashed some things defensively, helping him to two steals, but also struggled mightily in the first half when tasked with guarding Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Aaron Holiday was also up and down, dishing three assists, but shooting just 1-4 from the floor with two turnovers. JaKarr Sampson brought some nice hustle plays, but didn’t appear entirely sure what his role is to be just yet, especially on the offensive end where he appeared well out of sorts. Justin Holiday had four points in his debut, all coming from the line. His greatest impact came from allowing both the Kings and Pacers to get an idea where officials were going to come down on challenged foul calls as he got a foul on Cory Joseph to stand after further review.
It would be very easy to overreact to this, the preseason opener, and ramp up excitement for the upcoming exhibition trek. After all, besides just seeing Goga Bitadze on the court, there was a nice glimpse into the upside of many of Indiana’s offseason decisions right out of the gate, but the beauty of the preseason is that there’s no real barometer on how the Pacers and Kings will respond to their performances today moving forward. That holds especially true as they prime themselves to tip off again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Eastern in the final of two games in India.