One of the more notable things to come out of last night’s incredibly disheartening loss to Charlotte was Caris LeVert after the game talking about how guys weren’t getting excited for each other and how the recent losses had gotten to the spirit of the team. It wasn’t hard to see the frustration on the floor in that game. Their inability to execute manifested itself in a wholly negative way, resulting in some larger than life Sad Jeff Teague energy.
With the Indiana Pacers still without Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Jeremy Lamb one night later against the San Antonio Spurs, it was impressive to see the Pacers respond to LeVert’s concerns, putting forth a complete team effort and coming away with a scrappy overtime win on the road.
Not only was the bench notably more engaged with Indiana’s overall success, but LeVert himself picked up his game after struggling in recent outings. He scored or assisted on the first 10 points of the game, giving a short-handed team some much needed firepower despite San Antonio’s quick start.
The Spurs broke a 12-12 tie early, going up by 10 on a 14-4 run, but the Indiana bench, including JaKarr Sampson and Kelan Martin helped close the first with a purpose, finishing the quarter with 32 points, cutting the lead to one. They would then push the Pacers back into the lead, using a 9-0 run to take a 10-point lead of their own late in the half.
Indiana did a good job closing the half as well, maintaining their lead as best they could with LeVert scoring five in the final 32 seconds to give the Pacers a 67-59 halftime lead. After two full games of substandard offense, the Pacers posted back-to-back quarters north of 30, outscoring the Spurs 35-26 in the second.
LeVert hit a three to open the third quarter, putting the Pacers back up by double figures. The Spurs cut the lead to eight 90 seconds later, kicking off a blistering 10-0 run that immediately erased the lead. They would then use an 11-0 run to go ahead 91-80 with 4:05 in the third.
Things appeared a bit bleak at that point, but once again the second unit pulled the Pacers from the fire, getting back-to-back in rhythm threes from Aaron Holiday to make it a five-point game. Though the defense wasn’t as adept to getting stops as would ideally be the case, the offense was there late, with back-to-back threes from Martin making it a one-point game, Goga Bitadze putting the Pacers on top with a pair of free throws heading into the fourth.
After some back-and-forth action to open the fourth, the Pacers managed to work their lead up to seven at the halfway mark of the quarter, holding that lead with 3:53 remaining on a Myles Turner three. The Spurs charged back in the closing minutes, cutting the lead to three when back-to-back LeVert turnovers and back-to-back fouls that sent San Antonio to the line threatened to blow up the whole operation.
Fortunately for the Pacers, DeMar DeRozan, who to that point was 12-12 at the line, missed a crucial free throw that would’ve given the Spurs a one point lead. Turner and DeRozan each traded off misses on the ensuing possessions, sending the game into overtime knotted at 126-126.
The Spurs struck first in the extra period, twice taking two point leads, but the Pacers were in position each time to respond, tying the game. The flow was broken when DeRozen again split a trip at the free throw line, allowing T.J. McConnell to put Indiana ahead by a point, with Turner going 3-4 from the line, putting the Pacers up four with 1:23 remaining.
After a Rudy Gay dunk to bring the deficit to two, McConnell calmly pulled up for a jumper that sunk the dagger into the Spurs with 18 seconds on the clock.
T.J. McConnell!!! Coming up clutch!!!— Bally Sports Indiana (@BallySportsIN) April 4, 2021
TV: Bally Sports Indiana
Stream: https://t.co/UfEQSCMyZb#Pacers #AlwaysGame pic.twitter.com/FnORA7lSqs
On the following possession, Turner closed out the game on the defensive end, giving the Pacers a hard-fought 139-133 victory.
Myles Turner defense to up the @Pacers win! pic.twitter.com/Zi08zAbNbB— NBA (@NBA) April 4, 2021
Tonight’s win was truly an all-around effort for the Pacers. They shot 55% overall, going 12-29 from three point range, but also overcame 18 San Antonio offensive rebounds by crushing the Spurs in fast break points, outscoring them 19-0. They had 27 assists, with everyone in the 10-man rotation scoring seven or more.
LeVert led the way with 26 points, taking charge following some lackluster performances. He had nine assists as the primary ball handler and though it didn’t quite pan out at a high rate (he finished with five turnovers), it was a notable performance in opening up things offensively without their two leading scorers.
Those nine assists went to five different players, one the leader amongst those being Edmond Sumner, recipient of three assists as part of his 15-point night in the starting lineup. The Sumner Experience was once again pleasant, providing the Pacers some invaluable play late in the second and early in the third.
Turner was also part of three LeVert assists, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds, and four blocks. He joined LeVert with a team high 38 minutes, scoring 10 in the final four minutes and overtime. Justin Holiday and Doug McDermott each scored 10, with Holiday hitting a pair of threes and picking up three steals and McDermott finding success around the basket after going 0-3 from deep.
Nate Bjorkgren’s rotations have been a bit of a mystery at times, but his reliance on the bench tonight more than carried the Pacers over the finish line tonight. The usual suspect, McConnell, was fantastic, scoring 18 on 9-14 with eight assists and seven rebounds in 34 minutes. Goga Bitadze also provided some excellent minutes, scoring eight in 15 minutes.
It was the heavier load beyond that, 15-22 minutes each for Martin, A. Holiday, and Sampson, that was the difference maker tonight. Martin was called in for a season high in minutes, hitting three threes (and dishing an impressive assist to McConnell late) for a season high nine. Sampson scored seven, hitting a three of his own in the first quarter.
Holiday tied his season high tonight with 18, shooting 7-11, including 3-5 from three, with three assists. His decisiveness was much better tonight, giving him a real shot at settling into a rhythm from three point range, which lifted Indiana back into the game in the third quarter.
Needing to manufacture offense from somewhere, the bench pitched in with 60, helping the Pacers to a season high 139 points, not exactly predictable given their recent struggles and absent players. It wasn’t a perfect victory by any stretch, but it could be an encouraging one, especially if they can (gasp) build on it somehow.
The opportunity is there, with their next four games coming against non-winning teams, though that hasn’t stopped the Pacers lately in losing those exact games. Two of them are on the road, which may bode better for the Pacers than their two home games. Indiana improved to 14-12 on the road, tying them for first in road wins in the East.
The Pacers will have an extra day off before hosting the struggling Chicago Bulls on Tuesday. The Bulls are winless since their acquisition of Nikola Vucevic, but that shouldn’t stop them from aiming for a W against a Pacers team inexplicably 8-14 at home and somehow worse on extra rest (2-7) than on back-to-backs (6-4).