Despite playing on the second night of a road back-to-back without Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, James Johnson, and Daniel Theis, the Pacers remain undefeated on zero days rest, downing the Golden State Warriors 112-104 behind 31 points, 13 assists, and eight rebounds from Andrew Nembhard, who was relentless on both ends of the floor.
After being outscored in the first quarter in 10-straight games, the Pacers not only finished the frame with a lead, but did so while shooting 65 percent from the field and scoring 34 points —- marking only the third 30-point first quarter of the season. With Aaron Nesmith picking up his second foul less than five minutes into the first quarter, the Pacers had to rely heavily on all three rookies, playing Kendall Brown as the first sub in off the bench alongside Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, both of whom started together for the first time this season.
For the second game in a row, a lot was asked of Nembhard, not only to initiate the offense in the absence of Haliburton and McConnell, but also in checking Steph Curry at the other end of the floor. The rookie out of Gonzaga delivered early and late, scoring six points to go with five assists in the first quarter, as he was defended by Draymond Green as primary and navigated a mixture of man coverage from the Warriors following misses and 1-2-2 zone following makes, including tossing this, as one of many, lobs to Isaiah Jackson.
too easy.— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 6, 2022
Andrew Nembhard lobs it to Isaiah Jackson. pic.twitter.com/inrk7wRwMQ
Jackson, for his part, finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting — a considerable step-up after starting the road trip converting just 33 percent of his shots inside the restricted area.
Isaiah Jackson was flying around tonight. ✈️— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 6, 2022
3 BLK pic.twitter.com/vtvBuQAKhX
Unlike what happened in Portland, when the Pacers struggled without Nembhard on the floor and attempted to cobble together playmaking from James Johnson at point guard, Indiana led by as many as 16 points with Trevelin Queen serving as the reserve floor general for the second unit before the tide turned on a five-point possession from Golden State in which Queen fouled Anthony Lamb for a potential and-one under the rim. On the missed free throw, Nesmith committed a loose ball foul and then Jordan Poole drove to the rim and converted a layup for an and-one, trimming the lead to 11 with 7:20 to play in the quarter.
From there, Nembhard and Mathurin reentered, but the Warriors proceeded to go on a 15-2 run, erasing Indiana’s entire lead in less than five minutes to tie the score at 42-42, as Klay Thompson made three 3-pointers with Johnathan Kuminga and Poole also chipping in around the basket and at the free throw line. After the Warriors moved ahead by two, marking their only lead of the half and biggest lead of the game, the Pacers stormed back with a 17-6 run of their own, pushing the score to 59-50 at the end of the second quarter, with Nembhard leading the way with 13 points, seven assists, and three rebounds.
Out of halftime, Nemhard picked up where he left off, making his first shot as well as a step-back three at the 8:34 mark of the third quarter to put the Pacers ahead by 13 before signs of fatigue started to show, with Poole transforming a missed layup at one end of the floor into a made layup at the other. Shortly thereafter, with Indiana’s offense starting to look tired along with the legs of four of five starters who had already logged 20+ minutes of action, Kuminga converted a tip-in, triggering a timeout from Rick Carlisle with the lead trimmed to eight, at 70-62.
Following the breather, Jalen Smith pushed the advantage back to double-digits with a dunk. But, Thompson answered with his fifth-made three of the game, precipitating an onslaught from deep, as Steph Curry responded to a tough finish from Isaiah Jackson with his first make of the game from outside, which was followed by an additional triple from Poole. Still, the Pacers led 88-77 with 40 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Warriors made headway with yet another big possession, scoring four points on one trip, with JaMychal Green converting on an assist from Kuminga for a potential and-one before Donte DiVincenzo grabbed the missed free throw and downed the putback.
The start of the fourth didn’t go as well for the non-Nembhard minutes as was the case to begin the second quarter. DiVincenzo and Poole combined to score the first seven points of the quarter, cutting the lead to two, at 89-87, before Buddy Hield responded with shot-making, bookending two triples from Thompson with two makes of his own, after starting the game 1-of-8 from deep. Nembhard reentered during that stretch, replacing Queen with 9:31 to play and putting on a masterclass as he proceeded to answer every salvo from Golden State with poise against pressure on both ends of the floor.
From the point in which Poole tied the game at 95-95 with a 6-foot jump-shot, Nembhard scored or assisted on the next six made field goals for the Pacers, doing everything from drilling 30-foot step-backs to throwing late lobs and finding cutters while seeing multiple defensive schemes, ranging from zone, traps, and full-court pressure from Kuminga.
With the exception of three made free throws from Mathurin, who continued to struggle from range, Nembhard had a hand in 14 of Indiana’s final 17 points, with the Pacers outscoring Golden State by eight over the last seven minutes for the 112-104 victory.
Meanwhile, Curry finished with only 12 points, shooting 3-of-17 from the field as Nembhard also took two charges, absorbing contact from DiVincenzo as well as Anthony Lamb.
All of which is to say that, in the wake of three of the worst losses of the season, Nembhard continued to be the bright spot of the road trip, following up his game-winning three over the Lakers and inspired defense against LeBron James last Monday with an arguably even more impressive performance one week later — not only guarding the opposing team’s toughest assignment but also requiring the toughest assignments from the opposing team.
After trailing by as many as 17 points in every city they’ve landed in from LA to Portland, the Pacers — even while playing undermanned — never fell behind by more than two against Golden State, finishing the schedule in California better than how it started, exceeding expectations in what has largely been the theme of the season.