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Pacers preseason final score: Pacers shut down Hornets 122-97

Indiana stepped up on the defensive end in their exhibition debut, cruising past Charlotte. Aaron Nesmith led the way with 16 points.

NBA: Preseason-Indiana Pacers at Charlotte Hornets Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t much in the way of tempering of expectations from the Indiana Pacers tonight, blowing out the Charlotte Hornets in their preseason debut. Getting solid individual and team performances, the Pacers offered up everything they’re hoping to showcase on October 19 when the exhibition season expires, and being a preseason game, it comes with the added caveat of trying to figure out what does or doesn’t matter.

Sure the Hornets appeared to be in full preseason mode for large swaths of this game, but Indiana was also able to do a lot of things that were absent towards the end of last year, notably, play defense. After some quick looks to open the game for Charlotte, the Pacers really settled into a nice defensive groove for the bulk of the first half, holding the Hornets to 17 first quarter points and 43 for the half, building a 23-point lead in the process.

The first half stats had a little bit of everything for the Pacers, including 16 assists on 19 made baskets, a 20-20 half at the free throw line, and earning that 23-point advantage despite shooting just 1-13 from three point range. They finished the night with 72 points in the paint, bypassing their rather atrocious three point shooting throughout the game.

Rick Carlisle and the coaching staff hit the ground running with the rotation, going 10 players deep for first half, getting Myles Turner started early and often. He would be one of two double figure scorers in his first game action since January, scoring 12 points with three boards and two blocks.

Just how he pairs with Tyrese Haliburton (none of his six assists went to Turner) remains to be seen, but there were some positives alongside Jalen Smith, who had nine points and 10 rebounds, helping to clean up Turner’s rim protection at times. Haliburton was in playmaker mode for the majority of his minutes, scoring just five on 2-8 shooting, only looking for his shot in the third when sharing the floor with Chris Duarte and Bennedict Mathurin.

That particular trio didn’t get much run at all together with Haliburton and Duarte largely playing together in the backcourt, getting positive results for Duarte, who finished with 12 points himself. Off the bench, however, it was a real showcase for Mathurin, who was poised and strong in his ability to attack the rim and get to the line, scoring 15 points, 5-5 from the line, including a nifty three point play in the second quarter.

The second unit is where things really began to open up for the Pacers defensively, led by not only T.J. McConnell but Aaron Nesmith, who finished out as Indiana’s leading scorer with 16, scoring 10 straight late in the third. The other standout off the bench was Isaiah Jackson, who after a lot of foul trouble early came alive, blocking back-to-back shots after picking up his third, finishing with four block sand 13 points and six rebounds, showcasing some superb highlights in the process.

Rounding out the main rotation was Terry Taylor, stepping with four points and two rebounds. Taylor in the 10-man rotation meant the odd men out tonight were Oshae Brissett and Goga Bitadze. While Bitadze was possibly held out due to rest following his Eurobasket campaign with Georgia, Brissett’s lack of minutes proved a bit of a surprise, especially with Kendall Brown and James Johnson each stepping in before him.

Whatever the reason, Brissett did play the entire fourth, landing a pair of big highlights himself, getting a breakaway steal and dunk against P.J. Washington Jr. and closing out the win on a four-point play, finishing with six points and three rebounds.

His minutes came alongside Andrew Nembhard, who was also outside of the main rotation. Nembhard finished the game with eights and three assists, stepping into a nice run-stopping jumper after the Charlotte had closed the gap to open the fourth and finding Brissett on the four-point play.

Among other things, the Pacers and Hornets each got a look at the new take foul rule, both instances favoring the Pacers in back-to-back plays. The first, a take against Johnson by LaMelo Ball, was a bit of a surprise given how far ahead the play was when Bell was called for the foul and the officials conferred to confirm the second, a slightly more egregious affair of Nick Richards fouling McConnell. In both instances, the Pacers came away with four point plays, with Nesmith making each individual free throw and following it up with a three point shot, so, go Pacers.

Preseason action will continue for Indiana on Friday, as they travel north to face the New York Knicks in the Garden. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the Pacers can build on in meaningless games, but at the very least, tonight’s exhibition was a positive experience for a team that justifiably has a lot of question marks.