After breaking out of his shooting slump against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday with a 30-point scoring performance, Chris Duarte caught a bad break in last night’s win over the Miami Heat, sustaining a Grade 2 ankle sprain less than five minutes into the game that is expected to keep him sidelined for at least 4-to-6 weeks, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
This is obviously a bummer considering he showed tangible progress during the offseason but then started cold and was coming off a career night. After stepping on Kyle Lowry’s foot at the 4:48 mark of the first quarter, Duarte was in obvious pain and never returned to action, as Bennedict Mathurin started the second-half in his place.
With Aaron Nesmith also sidelined, the Pacers had to get creative with lineup combinations on Friday, playing groups with all three point guards at once as well as some hybrid units that were challenged for spacing against Miami’s zone in the fourth quarter. During that stretch, the Pacers broke even with Mathurin on the floor as the only second-half starter alongside T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard, Oshae Brissett, and Isaiah Jackson, but the team was held scoreless on 11 of 15 zone possessions for the frame, as the offense too often stalled out with Nembhard flashing middle and no one screening or cutting.
Nembhard, however, made several key plays on the defensive end, including the game-winning stop against Tyler Herro, and will likely keep getting run with Nesmith and Duarte sidelined. Of course, Miami was without Jimmy Butler and also doesn’t play with a lot of size, which won’t be the case in game this week against New Orleans and Toronto — particularly with regard to the latter’s assemblage of lanky wingspans.
Mathurin, meanwhile, played 37 minutes on Friday, marking the most of his young career. So far, he’s only logged eight minutes of action with Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith, and Myles Turner as the regular starters. In averaging 20 points per game off the bench, he has yet to earn his first career start, but has played with the first group after halftime in games against San Antonio and Brooklyn, as well as Miami.
Regardless of whether Mathurin starts, there may need to be some consideration given to making more of a split decision between Haliburton and Hield to balance out some of the spacing for the second unit. On the season, Haliburton has only played 47 minutes without Hield and Hield has only played 24 minutes without Haliburton.