Just to recap the last seven days (which, to be frank, felt more like 70 days):
- Memphis snapped an 8-game losing streak on 0 days rest
- Washington rolled to a 107-89 win on the second night of back-to-back after trailing by as many as 25 points the night before in Cleveland
- Orlando ended their 4-game skid with Terrence Ross scoring a season-high 30 points
Against desperate opponents (yes, the season-worst loss to Golden State is being intentionally ignored here), the short-handed Pacers hadn’t just been missing Oladipo’s presence as a leading scorer, closer, top-flight defender, and positive source of energy; they were missing the sense of urgency that sustained them during his prior absence.
At least for tonight, they found it.
‘’It’s all about adapting,’’ Nate McMillan told reporters about making due without Oladipo. ‘’It takes time and with different guys in and out of the lineup, it’s not going to be a quick fix.’’
Here are four observations from their fifth game since Oladipo’s season-ending injury:
Another slow start
Indiana had been the league’s worst offensive team in the first quarter (scoring just 85.0 points per 100 possessions) over the four games prior to tonight’s contest, and that trend continued against the Heat.
The Pacers labored through a 9-for-26 opening frame, scoring just 21 points with one made three, but they trailed by only six points because of the strength of their defense.
Establishing themselves early on that end of the floor paid dividends in the second half when a fast start to the third quarter quickly transformed into a lengthy dry spell.
After jumping out to an 18-point lead with 2:54 left in the period, the Pacers missed their next 11 shots until Myles Turner canned a 16-foot jumper with 7:18 to play in the game.
Despite the fact that Indiana scored only two points (both free throws) over that roughly 7-minute stretch, the Heat never pulled closer than within five the rest of the way as they tallied just 34 second-half points to go with nine turnovers.
Bojan Bogdanovic, doing serious work
Bojan Bogdanovic led the Pacers with 31 points on 19 shots, the most he’s ever scored in a Pacers’ uniform.
He was good without the ball (whether giving and getting screens or draining open shots when his man helped on middle penetration), and he was great with it (alternating between pulling-up for pure mid-range jumpers when Miami’s bigs dropped deep and finishing at the rim with a defender on his hip).
Although he poured in 12-straight points in a little less than two and a half minutes midway through the second quarter, this play from the third quarter epitomized his increased willingness to put the ball on the floor in a performance that showcased his well-rounded scoring ability.
Even with ramped up defensive attention (Justise Winslow is glued to his side coming around the dribble hand-off screen. Tyler Johnson is taking extra steps toward the ball. And Hassan Whiteside is staying up higher to protect against the drive), Bogdanovic still managed to drain the tough runner.
The Croatian sharpshooter flat-out dominated the match-up with Point Winslow (7 points on 2-of-6 shooting with four turnovers), who was forced to chase his counterpart over and around screens on one end of the floor while being limited to a more periphery role by Miami’s brood of ball-handling shooting guards on the other.
The struggle is real for Sabonis
Sabonis isn’t making all of the shots anymore.
He’s slumping hard.
Over his last five games, the Lithuanian big man is averaging a very anti-Sabonis 7.6 points while shooting 33 percent from the field (13-of-39) and 60 percent from the free throw line (12-of-20).
He shot 1-of-7 against Miami with only two attempts inside the paint.
Is anyone else starting to wonder if he’s doing his darndest to avoid the Most Improved Player-curse that has haunted the Pacers? (HE HAS MORE TURNOVERS THAN ASSISTS! HE HASN’T RECORDED A DOUBLE-DOUBLE IN SEVEN GAMES! OH THE HUMANITY!!!)
Jokes aside, some of it is just him missing shots (he can’t shoot 100% from the field every night)... but opposing bigs are also starting to make a more concerted effort to sit on his right hip when he posts up on the left block to make it tough on him to turn middle and get back to his dominant hand.
This from Mo Bamba (not biting on the shoulder shake), was perfect.
Until Sabonis can find his shooting touch and get more comfortable finishing with his right, he needs to regain his accuracy on putbacks, quick duck-ins, and rolls to the rim. He also needs to just get more shots near the rim, a problem that stood out against Miami with Aaron Holiday being indecisive with the ball in his hands and Tyreke Evans looking rough in his return to action.
Points are already hard for this group to come by (see: scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter), and his extended slump is only accentuating the problem.
We missed you, easy points
The Pacers are 25-8 when they outscore their opponent in points off turnovers and 8-11 when they don’t.
When they aren’t killing possessions on one end of the floor and converting easy looks in transition on the other, Indiana struggles to mask their offensive weaknesses in the half-court — especially, without their star player.
Tonight, aided by the Heat’s sloppiness, they rediscovered their winning formula. The Heat outscored them by six from three and seven at the free throw line, but the Pacers won by 7 because they limited their opponent to 18 fewer field goal attempts and forced 24 turnovers leading to 31 points.
Winning ugly suits them and will likely need to embody who they are moving forward.