Darren Collison (groin) and Wesley Matthews (hamstring) have already been ruled out for tonight’s game against the Pistons, the team announced on Tuesday. This will be the second-straight game missed by Indiana’s starting backcourt.
Cory Joseph and Tyreke Evans bumped up to the first unit for the first leg of the home-and-home with Detroit on Monday, but the team got off to a slow start on both ends of the floor despite ultimately finishing with the win.
In addition to the flyby closeouts, missed rebounding opportunities, and sluggish transition defense that led to 33 first-quarter points for the Pistons, particularly glaring was the lack of pick-and-roll chemistry between Evans and Myles Turner.
Where Evans is at his best on the downhill, slaloming north-south alongside a rolling big with ever-ready hands, Turner is at home when the ball-handler plays slightly east-west, prying open enough space with lateral movement for him to tee up his shot.
The end product of this directional conflict is possessions like this, where the passing window is completely out of sync:
Once the barrel-chested guard backs out from the action and takes that one extra dribble to cater to Turner’s preference to stop-and-pop, the 23-year-old center’s body is no longer in-between the two defenders and is instead hopping mad.
Here, Evans intends to feed the sweet-shooting big with a throwback pass, but he gets too deep and Turner rolls, which results in the ball going quickly the other way.
On the night, Indiana was minus-8 in the 27 minutes that Evans and Turner were on the floor together, and the offense scored well-below a point per possession. This, in spite of the fact that the 29-year-old guard on a one-year contract shot 4-of-6 from three.
If those lineup combination figures carryover, and the rotation from the last game remains unchanged, the Pacers could once again find themselves staring down the pike at another early double-digit deficit. Only, this time, they’ll have to claw out of it on the road, where they’re 3-13 since Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury.
None of which is to mention that Evans has since fallen out of the groove that he found while running back-up point during Collison’s prior absence near the end of last month.
After averaging 16.7 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 52 percent shooting on the road against LA, Golden State, and Denver, the herky jerky scorer’s numbers have dwindled to 8.5 points, three rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 35 percent shooting over the last four games with him back sharing ball-handling duties with Joseph, whether as starters or reserves.
Still, rejiggering the provisional starting lineup for Evans to return to the bench to pilot the pick-and-roll with Sabonis is tricky business.
No one on the roster is better suited than Joseph to try to stay a step ahead of shooting guard Wayne Ellington’s unpredictable dribble hand-off jitterbugging, so Tyreke’s hypothetical replacement would therefore be assigned to Reggie Jackson.
Bojan Bogdanovic logged a few defensive possessions against Detroit’s starting point guard on Monday, but expecting him to repeatedly fight through ball screens as the team’s leading scorer could get tiring if Doug McDermott were to be inserted into the starting lineup with him at nominal two-guard.
That leaves Aaron Holiday. Indiana’s 2018 first-round draft pick provided a much-needed jolt of energy off the bench in the last game with his pace of play, but (again, with the “but”) calling on him to repeat that performance as a first-time starter away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in a critical game for seeding is a tall ask.
Either way, injuries are forcing Nate McMillan to take a chance.
It just depends on whether he wants to roll the dice on a rookie point guard’s continued ability to read and react, or double down on a player in a miscast role who still needs to find a consistent rhythm before the playoffs.