The rookies came through tonight for the Indiana Pacers, guiding them to one of the most refreshing victories of the year in a comeback win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Pacers hung 38 points on the visiting Clippers in the fourth quarter, wrapping up January in a high note.
The Pacers got news earlier in the afternoon that Domantas Sabonis had entered health & safety protocols, which in addition to late scratches for both Oshae Brissett and Goga Bitadze not only limited Rick Carlisle’s option to 10 active players, but opened up opportunities for Isaiah Jackson to make his first NBA start.
To say Jackson made the most of his opportunity would be a real understatement. The rookie big finished with a career high 26 points, pulling in 10 rebounds and blocking two shots. Perhaps most impressive of all, Jackson finished the game with zero fouls. Jackson was one of three double figure rookie scorers on the night.
Jackson had nine points in the first quarter to help Indiana to a 30-27 lead after one, an advantage the Pacers would hold until about the midway point of the second when the Clippers stormed back to take a 48-47 lead on a Reggie Jackson four point play. With the Clippers surging, Caris LeVert managed to stem the tide with an alley oop to Jackson then scoring five straight to push Indiana’s lead back out to six.
The run would prove enough to send the Pacers into the break with the lead, but costly turnovers and hot shooting from Los Angeles quickly flipped the script out of the half. The Clippers opened the third on an 11-2 run to take a four point lead, one they would struggle to build on thanks to Torrey Craig and Chris Duarte.
The Clippers would eventually take a game high eight point lead on a 9-0 run, but Indiana, fueled by rookie scoring and veteran playmaking retook the lead briefly on a 12-2 run of their own. Back to back threes from Nicolas Batum to bookmark the end of the third and start of the fourth again gave LA the advantage at 88-84.
Duane Washington Jr. had a response keyed up, however, heat checking his way into three threes as Indiana went back on top for good on a 15-1 run.
The Clippers fought back with R. Jackson bringing them to within three late in the quarter but Indiana dealt the finishing blow with the next six, vets feeding rooks as had been the case throughout the night before Justin Holiday sunk in the dagger with just over a minute remaining on his third triple of the night.
Indiana shot nearly 53% on the night, going 14-29 from thee and outrebounding Los Angeles 50-41 with 31 assists. Their biggest advantage, however, came in the paint, outscoring the opposition 68-46. Exactly half of those points came from the rookie combination of Jackson and Terry Taylor, shooting 17-25 at the rim.
While Jackson stole the highlights tonight with an endless parade of dunks, Taylor also had a career night of 15 points and eight rebounds, doing with layups what Jackson was doing with jams. The duo had nine of Indiana’s 11 offensive rebounds, helping them to 17 second chance points.
Washington joined his fellow rookies in double figures with 16 points, scoring 14 of those in the fourth quarter to help guide Indiana into the lead. He hit all four of his threes in the fourth, heat checking one after the other. Duarte meanwhile had just eight points on 3-11 shooting, playing one of his least effective games of the year, but he still managed to come through with some timely points and breakaway steals.
Indiana’s veteran rotation did an excellent job all night setting up the young guys to succeed. Of the team’s 31 assists, 23 were from the seasoned players, led by nine from LeVert. LeVert finished the night with 17 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds, doing a good job not forcing his shot too often outside of the second quarter burst. Holiday finished the night with 13 points and six assists while Jeremy Lamb had nine and six rebounds
He did have five turnovers, however, joining Lance Stephenson with some head-scratching perplexity. Stephenson also had a solid all around night with 10 points and four assists despite coming away with a couple of turnovers. Those two had seven of Indiana’s 11 turnovers on the night, but the Pacers as a team controlled the ball well, trending in the right direction after 36 combined turnovers last week against Charlotte and Oklahoma City.
The Pacers wrap up the month of January at just 5-11, but did go 5-5 against the West with impressive wins over Utah, Golden State, and the Lakers. Getting all five wins against the opposing conference does set up Indiana with a rather lengthy losing streak against Eastern foes, 10 to be exact, just in time for them to play their next five against the East.
That will begin with their best opportunity at a win, hosting the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.