Though the game itself proved a bit of a dud from a results standpoint, the Indiana Pacers did in fact play basketball tonight, making their preseason debut on the road against the New York Knicks. The typical exhibition opener struggles were on display for the Pacers; clanks galore, step-slow reactions, 16 turnovers, and just general discombobulation.
The Knicks, however, refused to reciprocate those struggles, lighting up the Pacers early and often by attacking in transition, hitting their threes, and playing smart, committing just four turnovers themselves. All of that resulted in a 125-104 Knicks win that was at times didn’t feel that close, as Tom Thibodeau played his rotation guys well into the fourth quarter.
Indiana stumbled after a 6-2 start, falling behind by double figures into the second quarter, but solid minutes from the starting lineup (featuring Jeremy Lamb and Justin Holiday in place of the injured T.J. Warren and Caris LeVert) did have the Pacers within single digits late in the half, though they weren’t able to string together enough stops. The starters didn’t return in the second half, and New York made quick work against Indiana’s reserves in the third.
One interesting advantage the Pacers did have tonight was on the glass. After being a dreadful -4.1 rebounds per game last year, Indiana attacked their plentiful misses with a purpose, corralling 11 offensive boards and winning the rebounding battle overall 54-49. Lamb led the way with nine boards, one more than Domantas Sabonis with eight (and a block!).
With three point shooting a struggle for much of the first half, Justin Holiday unsurprisingly provided a boost, hitting all three of his attempts, leading the starters with 13. Sabonis and Myles Turner combined 0-5 from deep, with Rick Carlisle floating Sabonis out behind the arc in 5-out sets. A good deal of the offense was run through Sabonis, who converted on three assists and six points scored. Turner found some success attacking off the dribble, reaching double figures with 10. Malcolm Brogdon meanwhile struggle, scoring five on 2-9 shooting with four turnovers, just keeping his AST/TO at eye level with four assists.
The offense sped up once T.J. McConnell and the bench came into the game, though it was Chris Duarte who was the focus, letting it fly on seven attempts in just over five minutes, scoring eight. He’d finish the night with 15 points and five assists, including 2-6 from three. His rookie partner Isaiah Jackson had four points and four rebounds. McConnell wasn’t an afterthought, however, scoring 10 off the bench on 4-9 shooting, including a pair of elbow threes in the second half.
Defensively, things were even tougher for the Pacers. The Knicks were +6 in fast break points and +8 in points off turnovers, living on outlet passes in the first half to push their lead into double figures as Indiana was constantly caught flat-footed in recognizing the outlet or lackadaisical in ball control that allowed New York easy opportunities at the basket.
Though Turner had just one block in a night he was clearly playing at preseason speed on that end of the ball, the Pacers as a whole did block eight shots, led by Goga Bitadze with a pair. Bitadze was shut out of the 10-man first half rotation that included Oshae Brissett (eight points) and the rookie Jackson. Bitadze would have three points in the second half, hitting a long three.
The fourth stringers that came into the fourth, led by Bitadze and Kelan Martin, didn’t provide much of a spark against New York’s regular season bench unit. That wasn’t a surprise, but Indiana’s offseason quest to bring in help in the form of a third string point guard did start to take shape as they signed Brad Wanamaker after trading away the injured Edmond Sumner during the game.
Wanamaker has been a rotation guy with three teams over the past two seasons, averaging six points and just shy of three assists. Unfortunately, that’s little consolation for the moment after cutting ties with the fan favorite Sumner, even though he wasn’t set to play this season and was on the last year of his deal.
The Pacers will march on in their preseason action with the first of two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers, themselves taking one on the chin tonight against Chicago.