As the 2022 preseason wraps up with a loss, the Indiana Pacers provided some more things to look forward to in the upcoming regular season, namely excruciatingly poor defensive stretches. The Pacers, after allowing 39 first quarter points to the Houston Rockets, did even worse in the second, giving up 42 points.
Houston was able to get there in part due to lights out shooting from deep (14-24 in the first half), though there were a lot of good looks to be had by the young Rockets they didn’t mind taking advantage of, shooting 64% overall. To Indiana’s credit, they were much better after the break, holding Houston to under 30% in the third quarter and 41 points overall in the second half, but when allowing 81 points in one half, it’s difficult to mitigate that damage.
While there were plenty of issues to be had on the defensive side of the ball, the Pacers showed little improvement on the offensive end. Though they didn’t struggle with scoring the ball (60 points is still pretty good), they seemed to almost be playing through a fog, failing to anticipate passes and continuing to struggle from three, shooting just 5-21.
That improved in the third quarter thanks in large part to Buddy Hield and Jalen Smith. Hield would lead the way with 19 points, hitting two threes early in the third to help the Pacers settle down a bit and start chipping away at the large halftime deficit. Smith would break out of a poor preseason with a pair of threes himself, following up a strong rebound on one end with a wide open look on the other as part of his 10 points.
The shot in question was set up by Myles Turner, who despite being on the wrong end of some excellent finishes by Houston’s attackers in the first half, was still involved offensively and began to find himself in the second half. He finished with 15 points on 5-7 shooting, pulling in two offensive rebounds and three blocks, his best performance of the preseason.
The Pacers as a team racked up eight blocks, all across just three players. Isaiah Jackson joined Turner in the team lead with three while Kendall Brown had two blocks in his run, completing an impressive showing of eight points (3-4 shooting) and two assists, showcasing his flashes as a playmaker. Jackson meanwhile had two steals and five points, including an increasingly familiar alley oop courtesy of Andrew Nembhard.
Nembhard’s shot helped lift Indiana to an exhibition win against New York on Wednesday, but didn’t have the same punch to it tonight, finishing 1-8 (0-5 from three) for just two points, leaving many of his looks both from three and in the midrange wildly off. He still came through as a point guard, however, leading the team with seven assists, doing a good job recognizing open looks at the basket.
With Nembhard and Goga Bitadze playing well together on Wednesday, it’s a bit of a surprise that Nembhard had just one assist to Bitadze, but that didn’t slow down the Georgian center, who had another solid outing with nine points on 4-6 shooting with a three, including this nice find by Terry Taylor, who had four points and four rebounds.
Bennedict Mathurin’s final tally, 18 points, five rebounds, and three assists, looks solid enough, but it was by far the most he’s struggled in the four preseason games. His attacks at the rim weren’t met with the same success nor the same number of whistles tonight, which in turn led to some stretches of tunnel vision as he tried to bowl over his defender, resulting in a 7-18 shooting night that still had a lot of positives sprinkled in.
Mathurin continued to struggle from outside however, missing all four of his attempts to wrap up his preseason at 2-13. For a guy who shot 38% in college, it’s a bit of a stark contrast to his overall performance, blanking from three in three of the four games.
That may yet prove to be moot however, as will maybe everything that happened tonight and in the previous three outings. Despite the unpredictability of preseason play in its carryover to regular season basketball however, it is worth noting that this was one of the least preseason-y preseasons the Pacers have undertaken.
Rick Carlisle stuck to a pretty strict rotation, not overloading guys with minutes, but not getting too far out there in terms of experimentation and rest. A lot of the lineups the Pacers played seem feasible in a regular season setting, as did the general attitude the team seemed to have. Maybe that means something, but it’s more likely that even if it does, it will be treated as the exhibition schedule it was and be forgotten, at least outside of Mathurin’s windmill dunk.
At 0-0 for real this time, the Pacers will embark on an interesting 2022-23 season with a trio of home games, starting with a matchup against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday with a back-to-back against San Antonio and Detroit to follow. Though not a guarantee, it will give Indiana a decent chance to pick up a win or two before heading out on a road immediately thereafter.