Pacers escape Houston with W after shuffling lineups
The Pacers started strong and finished tough to earn their first win in the last four games.
The Pacers snapped their three-game losing streak with a 123-117 win over the Rockets on Tuesday night. The W is the bottom line for the Pacers regardless of the path they took to get there. They are in JWB mode, channeling Al Davis’ motto, Just win, baby!
Now, about that path to victory. Not sure the Pacers will want to map it, nor repeat it since there were so many ups and downs and it was fraught with peril. The journey started well with another new lineup as Rick Carlisle is making the best of Bruce Brown’s current injury issues to tinker with the starting lineup.
Andrew Nembhard remained in place of BB, but Jalen Smith started at power forward with Aaron Nesmith at small forward. Smith seemed to prove last season that starting at the 4 wasn’t a long-term solution, but the sight of Nesmith NOT playing the 4 was quite nice even if it didn’t last very long.
The starters jumped out to a strong start after making their first six three-balls, but throughout the first half, it became apparent that the Pacers couldn’t guard Houston’s Alperen Sengun. By halftime, the Pacers front court starters had divvied up eight fouls among themselves. That foul trouble brought the reserve unit in a bit earlier than expected in the first quarter and the initial success for the Pacers was wiped away and the Rockets seemed to have control of the game through the second quarter.
That momentum flipped to the Pacers after the half when Tyrese Haliburton came alive, making three 3-balls to score 13 of his 33 points to help the Pacers take a 101-90 lead to the fourth quarter. Isaiah Jackson was also active in the third quarter, forced to play after Myles Turner picked up his fourth foul just 1:22 into the second half.
Sengun finished the game with 30 points, 16 rebounds (7 offensive) and 5 assists while frustrating the Pacers bigs. The “mini Jokic” game Sengun plays had the Pacers jumping at pump fakes all too often, considering he would never jump over any of the Pacers big men if they could only wait until he left the ground.
While Turner struggled early, he was quite stout late, holding his own against Sengun and securing some critical rebounds for stops down the stretch at winning time. That allowed Hali to come through with a critical go-ahead 3-ball with a minute left as the Pacers held Houston scoreless over the final 1:50 of the game.
Again, there was nothing magical about the lineup changes to start or finish the game. The Pacers simply gutted out a win on the road despite committing way too many turnovers (20 to Houston’s 10), allowing way too many second-chance points (Hou 22 vs. Ind 13) and way, way too many points in the paint (Hou 74 vs. Ind 44). Fortunately, despite the Sengun-induced foul trouble, both teams made 18 free throws, so the Pacers 57 to 15 advantage from behind the arc was the great equalizer which on the surface seems nuts. Plus-42 from three-land? JWB.
As mentioned prior to the game, with BBrown out there was a good chance the Pacers went back to their best starting lineup from last season with Nesmith at the four along with Hali, Nembhard, Hield and Turner. Well, that was the group that finished the game and closed out the W, even if they didn’t play like the ‘answer’ everyone is looking for. Buddy struggled to make shots, but came up huge on a horrific (ill-advised is not strong enough) transition 3PA by Nesmith after the Pacers had taken the lead. When Nesmith let it go, considering the critical time and score situation, I figured HE felt a rhythm and assumed the shot would be wet. Instead it missed everything, but Buddy scooped up the air ball and called time out. Nembhard scored out of the time out and all was good. JWB.
So, yeah, even the familiar lineup that had some success together last year in not really a game changer for the Pacers. Were it so, they would have started the season that way. The group had a positive net rating together last year, but in the 32 games they played, the Pacers were just 17-15. Pretty good, not great.
All of this lineup shuffling had me considering comparing it to shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. However, that is far too grim a comp since the Pacers ship is not sinking.
Instead, let me lean on a rowing analogy after watching ‘The Boys in the Boat’ (Go Dawgs!) on Tuesday afternoon. If you include the coxswain, the elite crew teams have a nine-man rotation with each rower in a particular seat to fill a critical role as all nine work to make the boat go as fast as possible. In the movie, the newly formed team had to go through some trial an error, and even bring in a new part (watch the movie) to get the right leader and the rowers in the right seats to make it all work.
This is how I envision the Pacers at this time, with Tyrese Haliburton locked in the first seat as the ‘stroke’ to set the pace, while the coaching staff tries to find the right combination for the rest of the rotation to operate as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, with this current team, the boat can only go so fast regardless of how the players are shuffled around in the lineup.
Off to Chicago
The Pacers pushed their record back about .500 to 15-14 with the win and are now in Chicago where they will play the Bulls on Thursday evening.
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