Pacers deliver a delightfully fun win over Kings, look to welcome Siakam in Portland
Several Pacers players seized the opportunity for extended playing time to deliver a strong win in Sacramento.
Some wins are more fun than others.
Unexpected road wins with a short-handed playing rotation push the fun meter about as high as it can go and that’s what happened in Sacramento on Thursday night when the Pacers held on to be the Kings, 126-121.
This without Tyrese Haliburton, Aaron Nesmith, Pascal Siakam (and thus Bruce Brown) and Andrew Nembhard. Then Isaiah Jackson had to exit early for concussion precautions.
Enter rookies Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard playing a huge supporting role in a big road win lead by TJ McConnell and Bennedict Mathurin. If you read that last sentence, having not seen a second of the game, it had to bring a smile to your face. If you watched the game, the fun you witnessed elicited plenty of smiles, along with occasional cackles and all other expressions of joy.
The Pacers took a surprising early lead and continued to expand it through the first half, going to the break with a 70-57 lead. Considering the players NOT playing for the Pacers, that 70-point first half was worth at least a couple of cackles. TJ McConnell had one of those signature games where he’s all over the place, making shots all over the mid-range. So good was McConnell, after frustrating all of the Kings on the court, he started seeking out fans to frustrate after hearing their chirping. This is fun.
Bennedict Mathurin took a lead role on the offensive end, continually attack and finishing with 25 points. Sure, it wasn’t the most efficient offensive game and yes, the young fella looks for a call after every shots attempt, make ore miss, but the level of compete this guy has is also fun. He wants the smoke. Thinking ahead to a future playoff series, there will a time or two (or every time) when Benn is public enemy No. 1 in the opponents building. We can only hope, because he seems to thrive on that energy.
But the rookies pushed this fun fest to the max level. Sheppard played 28 minutes, made a couple of threes, played some point guard and ran all over the place working on defense. As I mentioned after his poor offensive game in Utah, Sheppard has the game to develop into a key rotation player. Buddy Hield was essentially playing the Andrew Nembhard role in Sac. So, Shep was playing the Hield role and is sure looked good on him.
Jarace Walker was active and impactful, as well. He scored 15 points in under 20 minutes of run. Continues to show he has a great feel and reads the action on the court quite well. Both rookies finished out the fourth quarter and struggled at times, along with the other three players when the Kings spent the last two minutes pressing and trapping the full 94 feet and made a furious comeback to get within a shot of tying the game.
But the Kings couldn’t complete the comeback and the Pacers with the two rooks and three other guards holding on for dear life in the waning seconds. Once the final buzzer sounded, it was like stepping off a wild roller coaster: It was fun.
Speaking of fun, check out this post-game interview with Walker and Sheppard, complete with Buddy Hield hazing.
Siakam and Haliburton ready in Portland?
There has been plenty of buzz that Pascal Siakam will make his Pacers debut in Portland on Friday night and may be joined by Tyrese Haliburton whose hammy is progressing ahead of schedule.
This would be a fitting matchup for Siakam’s first start considering that Jeremi Grant scored 34 points when the Blazers beat the Pacers in late November for one of a handful of extremely frustrating losses for the Pacers. Plan is for Siakam to make life tough on big wings like Grant, at both ends of the floor.
If you want to know what is at the opposite end of the fun meter from the win in Sacramento, consider a loss in Portland in Siakam’s debut to give the Blazers a season series sweep. Not fun.
Much of the injury list, including Haliburton and Siakam will be game time decisions, so tune in for the tip to see who will actually start. Hopefully, it is the start of a new era for the Pacers.
Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR
When: Friday, Jan. 19, 2024, 10:00 p.m. ET
TV: Bally Sports
Radio: 93.5/107.5 The Fan
Odds: Pacers -5
Pacers: TJ McConnell, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner
Trail Blazers: Malcolm Brogdon, Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Jabari Walker, Deandre Ayton
Pacers: Aaron Nesmith (shin) - questionable, Tyrese Haliburton (left hamstring) - questionable, Andrew Nembhard (back) - questionable, Isaiah Jackson (head) - questionable
Trail Blazers: Deandre Ayton (knee/driveway ice) - probable, Moses Brown (wrist) - out, Shaedon Sharpe (ab strain) - out, Robert Williams III (knee) - out
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