The Indiana Pacers debut of Caris LeVert went extremely well for the blue and gold as the Pacers topped the Phoenix Suns by double figures to pick up a much needed road win. LeVert scored 13 and the Pacers won by 11, showcasing exactly what it is the Pacers have needed in many of their close, agonizing losses of late.
LeVert was just 5-14 from the field, including 0-4 from three. He also had four turnovers. While little of that sounds good, his presence on the court greatly expanded Indiana’s margin for error tonight, helping them overcome a tough night for Justin Holiday as well as opening things up a bit for Domantas Sabonis, who posted another triple double in the win.
The Pacers trailed by four heading into the second quarter when a furious 11-0 run to start the quarter put them ahead for good. The bench run, featuring Sabonis, was a masterpiece on both ends, the activity on defense opening up things on offense with blistering pace, helped in a big way by excellent minutes from Edmond Sumner and Aaron Holiday.
"Oh what a pass to Sabonis‼️"— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 14, 2021
Aaron dimes @Dsabonis11 pic.twitter.com/Pit1zSSZ8a
Despite the run, the Suns fought back into the game on back-to-back threes from E’Twaun Moore, cutting the lead to two. LeVert returned to the game and helped keep the Pacers in the lead, scoring eight in the quarter, giving Indiana a five-point advantage at the break.
Caris crashing the glass for his first FG with the new squad #AlwaysGame | @CarisLeVert pic.twitter.com/qdFWCjipIY— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 14, 2021
The Pacers got their first double figure lead of the night early in the quarter on a Myles Turner three, but a muffed fast break opportunity with J. Holiday turned into five quick Phoenix points, eventually bringing the lead down to three.
As a response, the Pacers scored on their next four possessions, going ahead again by double figures and eventually up by 21 towards the end of the third, outscoring the Suns 21-3. Their defense, led by Turner, was an absolute force, some of the most complete basketball they’ve played all year, even figuring out how to break through a zone, courtesy of Malcolm Brogdon.
POUND IT DOWN MYLES #AlwaysGame | @Original_Turner pic.twitter.com/s9qcVQ9nGX— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) March 14, 2021
Unfortunately, good things can’t seem to last for this team, leading to three turnovers to open the fourth. Turnovers would become a huge issue for the Pacers after having controlled the game well to that point (and having committed zero in the 35-20 third quarter win). The Suns would capitalize, scoring 12 points off turnovers in the fourth, cutting the 20-point lead in half at the halfway mark of the fourth.
The Pacers did just enough, however, to keep the game from getting out of hand, picking up timely buckets throughout the quarter to hold on for the 122-111 victory. The Pacers finished the game shooting 52.9%, led by Brogdon, Sabonis, and Doug McDermott, each scoring 20+.
The trio combined for 26-42 from the floor (7-12 from three), leading the Pacers to 60 points in the paint. Brogdon led the way with 25 points, following up his 29-point outing last night with another big game. Sabonis had 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists (plus four steals for good measure) and McDermott had 22 points in his first game off the bench since February 10.
Turner had a big night as well, scoring 16 points with eight rebounds, blocking four shots on a night when the Pacers played some of their best defensive basketball of the year. The Suns shot under 49% for the first time in a month and finished above their season average in turnovers with 16.
As difficult as some of these losses have been recently, it wasn’t impossible to see where LeVert’s return could’ve propped them up just enough to help them close out some of these games as wins. That turned out to be more or less what happened tonight, which is about as encouraging a sign as possible for a team that needed some positives after a particularly rough 5-13 stretch over the past month and a half.
The Pacers improve to 17-20 win the win, edging themselves back up to 9th in the East. Unfortunately, wins may continue to be scarce even with the return of LeVert as the schedule remains daunting for the next five games, starting with the last game of this West Coast swing against the Denver Nuggets on Monday.