If the preseason has heartbreakers, the Indiana Pacers suffered one, losing in the last second to Isaac Okoro and the Cleveland Cavaliers to start their 2020 exhibition schedule. In a rather wild one, the Pacers and Cavs went back and forth late, but managed to tie the game up when T.J. McConnell stole an inbounds pass and found Edmond Sumner, cutting to the basket.
After a stop, McConnell drove into the paint and left a turnaround jumper short, allowing Okoro to race ahead for a game winning layup with 0.3 seconds. In regular season terms, that’d be a problem, but fortunately for the Pacers, superlatives for Okoro are the only part of that sentence that have any real chance of carrying over into games that count.
As a whole, the game was a learning experience for the Pacers in every sense with a general lack of cohesiveness on both sides of the ball, leading to a manic first half that featured 35 total turnovers. The Pacers accounted for 18 of those, struggling to even complete passes for stretches of the half. They were a bit more coherent on defense, but both sides of the ball are clearly a work in progress.
The second half, particularly the third quarter in regards to the first and second units, was more well-rounded. The Pacers started to find their range thanks to Malcolm Brogdon and stood up defensively thanks to Myles Turner, topping the Cavaliers 28-16 in the quarter. In the third, Indiana had just five turnovers, but also minimized what was a pretty glaring points off turnover deficit in the first half, going -1 after being -10 for the first two quarters.
The fourth quarter defense got turned on its head, however, as Thon Maker went to work against JaKarr Sampson and the Indiana bench, allowing Cleveland to outscore them 42-31 for the win. In that quarter, the Pacers got a look at Kelan Martin and Cassius Stanley, both shining on the offensive end, Martin’s 11 leading the way in the fourth. Martin also had a impressive steal, leading to free throws on the other end.
Stanley had five, going 1-3 from three. His shot looks good leaving his hands and he looks like he can belong on the floor, going around his defender for a big dunk late in the fourth.
Among the regular rotation, Domantas Sabonis made his presence felt early and often, leading the way with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Sabonis didn’t look like he had missed a beat despite not playing since March, hitting all five of his field goals from within the paint. He also led the way with 10 free throws.
He and Turner had over half of Indiana’s free throw attempts, 17 in total. While the percentages (58.8%) weren’t great, the reliability was especially as Victor Oladipo was the only other starter to even attempt a free throw. Turner struggled early, but found his offense in the second quarter, scoring eight of his 14 before the break, seeming to wake up on a big block. After the break, he helped lead Indiana on the defensive end, calmly sending away two shots on one possession.
Among the starters, Turner and Brogdon combined for six threes, combining for 6-11 shooting. Brogdon had four as part of his 16 points and team high five assists, providing a steady shooting hand when Indiana couldn’t find much. It also helped that Justin Holiday was also 4-7 from deep, picking up from a year ago, feasting in the corners.
Doug McDermott led the second unit with 13 points despite going 1-5 from deep, making the most of his ability to attack the basket, leading to three shots at the rim and 4-4 at the line. Oladipo was also perfect at the line, finishing with six points, going 0-4 from three. While he wasn’t a big factor offensively, he did look much better in general than he did in the bubble, connecting with Sabonis on a beautiful pass, and breaking away for a dunk in the second quarter.
All in all, there were enough positives in concepts that even though the execution wasn’t always there, the foundation hopefully is. Then again, with preseason, it’s always hard to know what specific things will carry over. There will be two more opportunities to overreact before the regular season begins, starting with a rematch against these same Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday.