Entering tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz at 10-6, the Indiana Pacers have largely succeeded in taking advantage of the league’s easiest schedule through the first month. How they got there was a bit unorthodox in relation to their extensive injury reports, but they have checked all the boxes from a win-loss standpoint in terms of weathering the early portions of the season without Victor Oladipo.
Through the first 16 games, the Pacers have played just two winning teams; Houston and Milwaukee. Their lone matchups against both resulted in losses, but that back-to-back coming during the height of Indiana’s injury woes took away from each game in terms of getting a feel for where they might rank against the league’s better opponents.
So to have as healthy a roster as they’ve had all season going up against a team as good as the Jazz, it had to be a real positive for the team to show out as they did. The Pacers held the upper hand after a back-and-forth first quarter, topping Utah in nearly every statistical category, from shooting, to rebounding, to turnovers, to assists.
Both teams tipped off tonight as top 10 defensive teams, which was well on display early. Points were at a premium for both sides, early points from Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb carrying the load on that end of the floor, allowing the Pacers to close the quarter up 21-20.
Early in the second, the game continued to swing back and forth, until Aaron Holiday kicked off a 9-0 run midway through the fourth to push the Pacers ahead by as many points. T.J. Warren scored five in the run, with T.J. McConnell assisting on both baskets while hitting a floater. As would become a regularity throughout the rest of the game, the Jazz responded, climbing back to within a point, but Indiana was there to respond to the response, scoring 11 straight to head into the locker room up 10.
Defense took a backseat in the third quarter as Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell stepped up the scoring load for the Jazz, combining for 27 in the quarter on five threes. Bogdanovic cut the once 14-point lead to just three with just over two minutes left in the quarter. McConnell again shifted the game in Indiana’s favor, scoring four points with two steals in 30 seconds to expand the lead back to seven, Justin Holiday capping the quarter with two more.
The Pacers dropped the third quarter 37-36, but their ability to keep up with the scoring proved key when in the fourth quarter, the Utah offense returned to a more languished form. Indiana broke through into double figures halfway through the quarter, but still allowed the Jazz to hang around by sending them to the free throw line.
This was particularly frustrating because during this stretch, the Jazz were scoreless from the floor for four and a half minutes, granting them seven points. Myles Turner was able to put the game on ice after hitting a three pointer with just under five to go and then blocking Mike Conley at the rim to set a second chance opportunity for the Pacers.
Offensively, the Pacers were on point through the final three quarters, shooting 52.1% for the game, scoring 32, 36, and 32 in those quarters. They outscored the Jazz 58-46 in the paint and were able to top them 12-9 in second chance points. Defensively, they held the Jazz to 43% shooting, and 20, 23, and 22 points inthe first, second, and fourth quarters.
There wasn’t much in the way of balance in terms of Utah’s scoring. Bogdanovic and Mitchell combined for 56, but only Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles reached double figures beyond that. The rest of the team had 20 points on 8-29 shooting. For the Pacers, four starters reached double figures, with McConnell off the bench scoring 12.
The Pacers were led by both Warren and Sabonis, who had 23 points each. In their 19 combined field goals, only four of them came from outside of the paint. Sabonis picked up a double double with 12 rebounds, including four on the offensive end. He would also lead the team at 5-6 from the line. The Pacers as a team were 13-16, though for nearly 60 points in the paint, continue to show a real lack of ability to live at the line with any sort of consistency.
Malcolm Brogdon had his best game since returning from injury, scoring 22 points with eight assists, joining Warren, Turner, and Lamb with two threes each. One of Brogdon’s threes came early in the third quarter when he scored or assisted on the first 10 Pacers points of the half. Both of those assists went to Turner, who hit and a three and received a rare Pacers alley-oop of all things.
Those set-ups to Turner were big in getting him involved in the offense, as brief as it may be. With Lamb back in the starting lineup, Turner has taken just 11 shots in the last two games. Tonight alone, Lamb and Sabonis had the fewest of any other starter with 15 shots.
While Turner was a crucial piece of Indiana’s defense tonight with three blocks, there’s not been a real place for him offensively, which is something the Pacers need to sort out, even if it’s only in getting him more shots from three point range (where he is 45.9% for the season). In a sense, it’s a good problem to have, but it’s also not maximizing his talents on the offensive end, something that can be admittedly difficult to do with two scorers like Lamb and Warren on the floor.
At any rate, check out Turner’s perimeter defense on Bogey.
The Pacers improve to 11-6 with the win over Utah, extending their win streak to four games. They also stay perfect in their current four game home stand, improving their home record to 8-2. They’re still locked in sixth in the East, but sit just 0.1 point shy of the fourth best point differential at +5.7.
Indiana will get to enjoy a happy Thanksgiving after tonight’s win and will be back in action on Friday when they host the Atlanta Hawks after the Circle of Lights ceremony in downtown Indianapolis. The Hawks, like Memphis, pose a unique danger despite their 4-14 record with Trae Young leading the charge.