Victor Oladipo refused to allow his return game against the Chicago Bulls to be spoiled, pulling up in the final seconds to drill a game-tying three pointer. It forced overtime, and while Oladipo himself didn’t play in the extra period due to minute restrictions, his presence was felt on the floor as the Indiana Pacers closed out the emotional win.
Getting to overtime, much less the win, required the Pacers to basically do what they hadn’t done all night: string together stops and hit some timely three point shots. It was a 100-93 game with 4:11 remaining in favor of Chicago after Tomas Satoransky hit a jumper from the elbow.
The Pacers held Chicago to 0-6 shooting to finish the fourth quarter, forcing two turnovers. Oladipo’s three pointer was the first of three straight makes for the Pacers after hitting just four to that point. They quickly built a six point lead in OT, an advantage they were able to hold, resulting in the 115-106 win.
Oladipo stepped on the floor for the first time in a calendar year with four minutes remaining in the first, receiving a standing ovation and making his impact felt immediately, finding Domantas Sabonis with the bounce pass for an easy layup.
He would then go on to work the pick and pop game with Goga Bitadze, unfolding to varying degrees. After hitting his first shot, Bitadze missed his next two short. Indiana’s defense meanwhile wasn’t forcing misses of any kind, allowing the Bulls to go up a point at the tail end of the quarter. Oladipo responded, showing explosiveness in attacking Coby White, getting to the line to put the Pacers up 25-24 to end the first.
The second unit, with help from Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott, helped push Indiana’s lead as high as 10 nearing the halfway point of the second. As Oladipo returned, looking for his shot, the Bulls managed to cut the lead to one with under a minute remaining, but T.J. Warren was in place to keep Chicago from taking the lead, scoring 11 in the quarter.
The strong close to the half didn’t carry over, as a more lethargic Pacers squad gave up seven straight to start the third, eventually setting up a back-and-forth quarter in which the Pacers (particularly Warren) would go up multiple possessions while the Bulls stormed back to go back into the lead.
Bitadaze, after a poor showing in the first half, stepped in for a foul-troubled Sabonis in the third, scoring eight of 10 to give the Pacers a 78-77 lead late. Each Bitadze basket was needed because Chicago was getting around him with relative ease on the other end, attacking him and JaKarr Sampson, who had a highlight dunk of his own in the quarter, to take a two point lead with 30 seconds.
Oladipo again forced a foul on White, getting to the line for a pair of free throws to force a tie at 80-80 heading into the fourth. In the fourth, the Pacers were again unable to close out the lead, building a quick four point advantage only to have Chicago force turnovers and score easily at the rim, eventually getting a techincal foul out of T.J. McConnell after an offensive foul.
Satoransky scored five straight for the Bulls to help them build their 100-93 lead with just over four minutes on the clock. After trading misses, a costly turnover by Malcolm Brogdon could have sunk the dagger in on the Pacers, but Chicago was in the midst of three straight misses from deep, keeping them alive long enough for Brogdon, undeterred, to attack for a much needed basket with 2:32 in the game.
On the following play, Brogdon read the pass from Zach LaVine to Satoransky perfectly, intercepting the ball and racing for a breakaway dunk, cutting the lead to three.
Malcolm with the steal and bucket pic.twitter.com/OjW7hcXouW— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 30, 2020
Both teams went scoreless for the next 90 seconds, holding the score at 100-97 when Holiday missed a game tying-attempt in the corner. The Pacers came up with the offensive rebound, setting up Oladipo for the his own game-tying attempt six seconds later. Oladipo did what he always does on that shot; rising up and putting it in, ignoring his six misses and his clear fatigue, tying the game.
Indiana forced overtime after getting the stop against LaVine (possibly escaping a whistle). While they still had five minutes to play, the game really felt decided on that Oladipo three. Holiday and Brogdon would hit a pair of threes themselves to start the OT period while Sabonis and Warren hit five free throws, helping to wrap up the improbable W.
After the game, Oladipo, who had entered the arena wearing a Kobe Bryant All-Star jersey, was overwhelmed in the postgame interview with Jeremiah Johnson, crediting Bryant’s Mamba Mentality on his final shot attempt, breaking down when dedicating the shot to the late Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven others who passed away on Sunday.
Victor Oladipo gets emotional while discussing his game-tying shot: "I just shot it, man. Mamba Mentality. That's for Kobe, GiGi, all the people that was on that helicopter. It's been a tough year, man, but tough times don't last. Tough people do."@Pacers pic.twitter.com/LlkjXhpfjo— FOX Sports Indiana (@FSIndiana) January 30, 2020
The shot, and the ensuing victory, helped write a perfect comeback story for Oladipo in his season debut, effectively glossing over a number of issues for the Pacers within the game, many of those expected, not only with Oladipo’s return, but Brogdon’s as well.
Oladipo scored nine points in his return, shooting 2-8 from the floor and dishing four assists. The assist numbers could’ve easily been higher with a couple of makes from Bitadze, but it was still a checklist of positives for Oladipo, who will be on a minutes restriction through at least the All-Star Break.
At the end of the first quarter, Oladipo was visibly gassed, but still found enough to flash his trademark explosiveness to get to the line at the end of the quarter. In fact, seven of Oladipo’s nine points came at the end of quarters, the first, third, and fourth. The Pacers as a whole outscored Chicago 10-0 in end of quarter points, an invaluable difference in such a wild game.
While this particular game is, and always will be about Oladipo, it was the absence of Myles Turner was that maybe felt stronger and very well could have shifted the outcome of the game away from Indiana. Turner missed his second straight game with the flu, opening things up for Chicago inside.
The Bulls torched any and all Pacers bigs throughout the game, scoring 78 points in the paint. Even Bitadze, who had bounced back in the third quarter, needed to score at the rate he did just to keep pace with Chicago’s interior offense. The Bulls shot upwards of 80% in the paint, while outscoring the Pacers 20-11 in fast break points.
Warren led all scorers in the game with 25 points on 10-15 shooting, the bulk of his points coming late in the second and early in the third, point after point again proving necessary as a response to Chicago’s scoring. While Sabonis struggled defensively, he was key in helping the Pacers control the glass 46-34, including three of Indiana’s 13 offensive boards, joining Sampson with team highs.
Brogdon, who returned to action after missing a pair of West Coast games, looked even more rusty than Oladipo did, scoring just four points in the first 45 minutes of game action. He did find success feeding Warren through his hot stretch, but came into his own again when it mattered, scoring 11 points in the final 7:32 of regulation and overtime to seize the win.
Off the bench, Holiday led the way with 13 points, hitting three shots from deep on a night when Indiana fell under 20% shooting late in the game. McDermott was 0-3 from three point range for the game, though he did make an impact inside, scoring eight points. Bitadze and Lamb both reached double figures with 10, while McConnell scored just four on 2-4 shooting with three assists and two turnovers.
Oladipo’s return will swallow up minutes from elsewhere in the rotation, primarily from that of Aaron Holiday and Edmond Sumner. While A. Holiday may log in rotation minutes on certain nights, it would be nice to see Nate McMillan and his staff show greater flexibility regarding the backup point guard position.
While it won’t necessarily be the case every night, McConnell was largely ineffective in this game, but McMillan stuck with him even as he struggled into the fourth quarter. Holiday meanwhile logged a DNP-CD, even as he could’ve proven a more efficient partner to Oladipo’s ballhandling within the second unit, or provided a greater spark to McConnell’s second half struggles even if it can go both ways in regards to the young Holiday.
This was also a bit of a gripe early in the season when Holiday’s struggles led to his benching, but he and McConnell still found time on the floor, in a happy medium. That shows just how far the rotations will have to grow with Oladipo back in the lineup, but his play even tonight gave a glimpse of a potentially newfound upside, making the growing pains the team will face in the coming weeks all the more worthwhile.
The Pacers move to 31-17 with the win, kicking off their three game home stand with a win and finishing the month of January at 9-5. They improve to 8-2 in their last 10 however, third best in the East behind Milwaukee and Toronto, who are riding high on extensive winning streaks. Indiana will be back in action on Saturday, when they host the New York Knicks.