The NBA’s decision to play their slate of games tonight should be of no real surprise. It’s a wholly American decision on a day that was in many ways entirely emblematic of what America is and stands for, despite the various cries otherwise. This country’s endless quest for capital has given allowance to right-wing populism’s growth through television news and social media, all but refusing to recognize the danger signs and conspiracy theories that resulted in today’s horrible actions that it might sacrifice any amount of financial gain.
For the NBA, it’s perhaps less insidious with its product, but it’s no less guilty in terms of operating with blinders. The lack of reflection in this moment makes it a difficult sell, especially considering the league’s purported interest in aligning with its workers to improve the lives of minorities and marginalized groups in America.
Today served as an indictment to America’s very real principles, working in opposition to the protests that took place over the summer that fueled the NBA players’ fight against racial inequality. The police response to a fascist insurrection on the Capitol building by groups of white supremacists was in stark contrast to the far more violent response to protests against police violence over the summer, a hypocrisy Malcolm Brogdon spoke on after the game.
That alone made taking the court a bit of an interesting decision, though Brogdon didn’t appear to be in opposition of playing tonight and teams around the league also took the court after protests and statements of their own. In the end, playing games did provide an escape, though perhaps felt a little odd. However, that may have just been because the game between the Indiana Pacers and Houston Rockets was pretty odd in general.
The Pacers struggled early to contain the Rockets early, falling behind 22-12, but quickly fought back on a 23-8 run behind the play of Brogdon and Justin Holiday to take a five-point lead into the second. Indiana led much of the way in the second, holding Houston at arms’ length despite late pushes from James Harden, John Wall, and David Nwaba.
The trio took on the scoring load in a 13-5 run that cut Indiana’s double figure advantage to just two, though Brogdon would again step up to lead the way in building their lead up to six at halftime. Afterwards, the once porous Houston defense began to play much more active, forcing the Pacers into numerous miscues that allowed the Rockets to stay right in the game.
The fourth quarter saw six lead changes and four ties, but the Pacers remained poised in hitting key shots when they needed to, including a Brogdon triple that put Indiana up two with 2:22 on the clock. After forcing a turnover, the Pacers pushed their lead to four on a Domantas Sabonis putback, then joining up with Myles Turner for Turner’s eighth block of the night to effectively seal the win with 38 seconds remaining.
Turner, Sabonis come up with the clutch defensive stop late in the Pacers win. pic.twitter.com/JqOiGSYJRK— NBA (@NBA) January 7, 2021
The Pacers did a good job to come away with a victory here. The circumstances at play went beyond anything off the court as both teams grew increasingly frustrated with the officiating inconsistencies. Hard fouls often went uncalled while lighter infractions and flops found their way to personal fouls.
This made the game a bit of a scrum, forcing both teams to simply weather the circumstances in hopes of emerging victorious. Though frustrating, especially in regards to numerous non-calls on Victor Oladipo drives, the style may have worked best in Indiana’s favor, preventing the Rockets from feasting at the free throw line. The Pacers drew even in free throws made at 21-21.
Nowhere was this more evident than seeing Harden only take four free throws on his own. The Pacers as a whole did a fantastic job preventing Harden, who entered as the league’s leading scorer, from dominating Indiana as he has been prone to do in recent seasons. The different looks on the perimeter, be it Brogdon, J. Holiday, or Oladipo, helped limit Harden to 15 points, so too did Turner’s defense around the rim, blocking him on three shots and altering various shots around the rim beyond that.
The Pacers, meanwhile, got another career night from Brogdon, who topped his season high of 33 against New York with 35 tonight in the win. He and J. Holiday combined for seven of Indiana’s nine made threes on a night where they had just 23 attempts. The Pacers as a team were far more active at playing inside, scoring 60 points in the paint after being forced into a higher volume of threes in recent games.
Sabonis continued his double double streak, scoring 22 with 12 rebounds, helping Indiana to a respectable outing on the glass after, again, struggles in recent games. Oladipo had nine of those rebounds, pairing them with 18 points. Turner had just two points, but continued to be a force defensively with his eight blocks and two steals for good measure.
Off the bench, Nate Bjorkgren continued to run an eight-man rotation, one that may have to be adjusted after Doug McDermott left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. The severity of the injury is not known, but he did not return to the game tonight. J. Holiday did step up in a big way, however, scoring 20 points on 6-9 shooting, hitting three threes. T.J. McConnell was a whirlwind off the bench, to no one’s surprise, registering three steals himself, leading to four of Indiana’s 24 points off turnovers.
This ended up a survive and advance type of game for the Pacers, simply needing to hold on in order to pick up the win over Houston. This moves Indiana to 6-2 on the season and now 2-0 in their Western Conference stretch of games. The Pacers will have one more home game before a road-heavy schedule takes over, hosting the much-improved Phoenix Suns on Saturday.