The Indiana Pacers are back! Though the quality of player was somewhere between Summer League and a preseason opener, it was still exciting to see the Pacers, in a modified home court setting, take the court and come away with a late victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
After a four month layoff due to COVID-19, the NBA resumed play yesterday, kicking off the first round of three scrimmage games leading up to the official resumption of the regular season on July 31 (and August 1 for the Pacers). The Pacers played the home team in this first scrimmage matchup against the Blazers; the basketball P flashing throughout the game on a giant digital wall with a taste of familiar racing sounds.
It’s impossible to really parse what this means in creating a home court advantage, but the NBA has done a good job in creating a worthwhile viewing experience for the fans that won’t be attending while also opening things up for social distancing and allowing players to chase balls out of bounds without fear of popcorn or beer spills.
Home court did not seem to play a factor in the game late, however, where both teams closed with their third string lineups. The Blazers cut a double digit deficit to three with 13 seconds remaining, missing a tying three attempt late to allow the Pacers to hold for a 91-88 victory.
The Pacers were short three bigs tonight, with Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and Goga Bitadze all suffering various ailments. That played a part in them falling behind 20-9 out of the gate, stumbling offensively despite seven quick points T.J. Warren. Justin Holiday and Aaron Holiday helped to chip away at the lead in the second quarter, eventually going ahead for good in the third behind three straight threes from Malcolm Brogdon.
For the game, Indiana shot just over 40%, but did shoot 39% from three point range, going 13-33 on the night. The 33 attempts would be among the 15 most the Pacers have put up this season, which could be a sign of a greater focus on the shot, but could just as easily be chalked up to fatigue and complacency in a scrimmage game.
Victor Oladipo in particular enjoyed the deep three, hitting a pair in five attempts in his 19 minutes. He wasn’t a large part in the offense, particularly in creating, spending a majority of the time on offense behind the arc. Without Sabonis, however, there didn’t seem to be the same willingness to attack and dish, though with the beatings Warren and T.J. McConnell took, it may not have been too pertinent in an exhibition setting. Afterwards, Oladipo did say that he felt pretty good on the court, which will be a determining factor in whether he plays in the regular season games in August.
With the layoff, as well with the unusual rotations, consistency wasn’t a fruitful commodity in this game, though most players had some stretches of note. J. Holiday was perhaps the most consistent of the Pacers, stepping into 4-6 shooting from deep to lead the team with 16 points. His play in the second quarter, along with Aaron’s, was instrumental in guiding the Pacers back from their first quarter deficit.
A. Holiday on the other hand hit a pair himself, scoring 13 in 17 minutes. He played mostly off the ball with McConnell, struggling when he did take a shot at being a playmaker, but his finishing abilities were on point, coming through on at least a couple of nifty layups.
McConnell meanwhile was in mid-season form in the first half, showing out as a playmaker, leading the team with six assists. As was the case for most everyone, one half didn’t really translate well in the other, committing both of his turnovers after the break. Brogdon, as with Oladipo, started slow, but came through in a big way in the third quarter to help the Pacers break through with his three consecutive triples, finishing in double figures with 11.
Warren also had 11, scoring seven in the opening quarter to help minimize the damage of Portland’s hot start. Defense was a bit of an issue early as the Pacers struggled to account for Portland’s bigs, particular Jusuf Nurkic, who seemed to enjoy going up against JaKarr Sampson. Sampson (along with Alize Johnson and TJ Leaf) didn’t provide much resistance defensively, but he did come through offensively for seven points and did punch one away into the proverbial bleachers late in the first half.
Off the bench, Sumner had a nice block of his own, but was a bit out of control at times beyond that, scoring four at the line. Leaf struggled to find anything of note within the offense and defense, but did have a really good outing on the glass, leading all players with 11 rebounds.
Doug McDermott finished with 10 points, one of the three beneficiaries to McConnell’s first half playmaking, but saw his fourth quarter shooting come up short, quite literally. In the closing minutes, Naz Mitrou-Long got some run with the Pacers for the first time since November, scoring a tough layup late as Portland tried to close the gap on the scoreboard, but picked up a couple of terrible fouls that led to four Blazers points at the line.
This opening game was about “our guys getting out there and working to condition themselves,” which will possibly make the next two scrimmage games a bit more traditional. Then again, both Oladipo and J. Holiday spoke to how easy it was to hear the playcalling from the opposition, setting up an interesting wrinkle moving forward for Indiana’s coaching staff, something McMillan noted after the game.
From here, the Pacers will play the second of three scrimmage games on Sunday, facing the Dallas Mavericks at 4 p.m. Eastern.