Lakers awaken Pacers from IST dream week, send back to regular season reality
The Pacers raised the bar on expectations with their In-Season Tournament performance.
The Pacers held on as long as they could in the inaugural NBA Cup final on Saturday night before eventually relenting to the size and pressure the Lakers threw at them all night. Throughout the Lakers 123-109 win, the Pacers would fight back from deficits threatening to get out of touch, to remain within a possession or two.
If they could just get to closing time, maybe the Pacers could tap into the similar magic they had at closing time in big wins over the Celtics and Bucks.
This was a different game, though. While the Pacers hung around, the Lakers were able to bully the blue and gold and keep them trudging uphill all night. But with six minutes left in the game, the Pacers were only down 102-99.
Then Anthony Davis, who was a problem all night, dialed up his best stretch of the season, proving on this night, he was the only closer required, even with LeBron James running with him.
The Lakers scored the next 13 points, including 10 consecutive points by AD, which sucked the last of the wind out of Pacers sails. The Lakers were simply too big, too long and too strong for the Pacers in this playoff-type game. The Lakers made it a physical battle and surely didn’t mind all of the fouls that ensued since it kept the pace of the game choppy enough to keep the Pacers from their preferred pace.
Anthony Davis had 41 points and 20 rebounds. LBJ had 24 points and 11 rebounds. Austin Reaves had 28 points off the bench. In hindsight, it is hard to believe the Pacers hung around as long as they did. Tyrese Haliburton and Benn Mathurin had 20 points each to lead the Pacers.
The big-name Lakers definitely delivered, but their role players were also critical in keeping the game to their liking, fortifying a defense that had the Pacers struggling to get comfortable looks. Cam Reddish, Taurean Prince and Jarred Vanderbilt are all the long type of wings the Pacers desperately need to fill a role in the rotation by defending 1-4, if necessary.
Aaron Nesmith has been legendary this week with his defensive effort, including his work against LeBron James. Imagine if he could slide down a player or two, to smother someone his own size?
The Pacers raised the bar on their expectations for this season, while also showing they still lean toward having to run or shoot their way past other teams. When Buddy Hield opened the game with corner three-ball, there was hope the team as a whole catch fire for the game. Instead, the clanks returned in bulk, finishing 10 for 41 from deep.
Still, until the Pacers address the roster imbalance, they have shown enough through this IST experience that they can be in every game. Reality had to hit hard when the Pacers plane landed in Detroit ahead of their game against the reeling Pistons on Monday.
Can the Pacers avoid a let down?
The Pacers have set a different standard for the level of play they can attain. Now they have to avoid the inexplicable losses earlier this season (Blazers, Bulls, Hornets). The IST effort and results gave a huge boost to what the Pacers are trying to build around Tyrese Haliburton. Have to keep moving up to play in these types of games, again in April.
First off, as annoying as LeBron is with his antics and complaining about nearly every call on the court, he deserves credit for making this In-Season Tournament a success. He set the tone for his team and somehow brought out the beast in Anthony Davis to push the Lakers to the cup. His sincere stamp of approval will make this an annual thing and an event other players can’t be ‘too cool’ to dismiss.
Tyrese Haliburton had a frustrating night, but still logged 20 points and 11 assists (which won’t be logged in his season stats). But the pressure the Pacers applied, focusing on trying to cut off the Pacers head should serve Hali well as he continues to develop his elite game.
Benn Mathurin was up to the challenge on the offensive end. Much like he did against Boston, Mathurin was not backing down from any challenge and was the only Pacers to attack and score on Davis (or get fouled) at the rim.
TJ McConnell had an up and down impact. Doing his TJ things with an inbound steal that lead to a Mathurin bucket. Also, slipping in for a couple of rebounds in traffic. He also was just 3 of 11 from the field, with a few of his shots getting swatted before having a chance to go in the hoop.
Myles Turner, Bruce Brown and Buddy Hield were all on the struggle bus. That Lakers length had BBrown and Turner spooked around the hoop. Buddy was just 2 of 9 from three-land after making his first shot. Brown also had to deal with a revenge effort by D’Angelo Russell who kept reminding Brown that Nikola Jokic wasn’t there to help him.
As frustrating as the loss to the Lakers was to watch, the game didn’t count in the standings, so the Pacers left Las Vegas in fifth place in the crowded Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers are one game in the loss column behind the Magic, Bucks and Sixers, while being one game in the loss column ahead of the Cavs, Knicks and Nets.
The Pacers next four games are on the road, as the schedule stiffens for the remainder of the calendar year.
Andrew Nembhard remains out at least a week, so he and Jalen Smith are expected to remain out against the Pistons.
The Pacers will have to bring their own energy to this one. Seems safe to say that with the Pistons at 2-20 on the year, the juice in Little Caesars Arena won’t match what the Pacers have enjoyed in their past three games.
Pacers vs. Pistons - Game Details
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
When: Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: Bally Sports
Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan
Pacers: Tyrese Haliburton, Bruce Brown, Buddy Hield, Obi Toppin, Myles Turner
Pistons: Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Bojan Boganovic, Marvin Bagley III, Isaiah Stewart
Pacers: Andrew Nembhard (knee) - out, Jalen Smith (knee/heel) - out
Pistons: Jalen Duren (ankle) - out, Monte Morris (quad) - out
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