When Victor Oladipo missed his first game due to knee soreness, many Pacers fans (including myself) got a little worried. Considering last season’s results without No. 4, the worry was well-warranted too.
But after going 0-7 without Oladipo in 2017-18, this year’s squad showed a new sense of resilience, going 7-4 in their star player’s absence. As I mentioned in my previous column, many players on this Pacers team stepped up to the challenge without Oladipo, with the most notable being Myles Turner.
According to Andrew Bailey of Bleacher Report, Turner has averaged 17.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks in his last five games. In contrast, Turner scored in single figures in four straight games from Nov. 5 to Nov. 11 (all games where Oladipo played 35+ minutes).
In addition to this new and improved version of Turner, the Pacers have continued to get great play from Bojan Bogdanovic, who currently leads the entire NBA in 3-point shooting percentage at 49.6% (up from 40.2% last year). Bogdanovic’s scoring average is also at 16.6 PPG this year, which is more than 4 points higher than his career average of 12.4 PPG.
These are just a few of the unsuspected bright outcomes that came from Oladipo missing time. All in all, the team seemed to gain a better sense of its identity while their star player was out. In turn, these 2018-19 Pacers now appear more confident than ever as they head into the season’s final 54 games, currently standing at fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 18-10 (just 4 games back from Eastern Conference leading Toronto).
Since we spoke last following the Pacers’ 96-90 win over the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 4, Indiana has continued with their winning ways, with victories against a stretch of formidable teams. This started in Orlando on Friday, Dec. 7, with the Pacers decisive 112-90 win over the Magic. Bogdanovic led the blue and gold in this game with 26 points, but the outcome was an overall team effort, as six players finished in double figures.
The Pacers then returned home to play the Sacramento Kings for the first of a three-game homestand. Indiana defeated Sacramento by a score of 107-97, holding a fiery Kings team well below their season scoring average of 115.3 PPG. In the win, the Pacers had seven in double figures, led by Thad Young with 20 points. Indiana also had great performances from Bogdanovic (18 points) and Turner (9 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks).
Two nights later, the Pacers defeated the Washington Wizards 109-101 in a game in which Indiana led by as much as 25. Myles Turner scored a season-high 26 points in the win, adding 12 rebounds and 5 blocks. Turner was accompanied by Bogdanovic with 22 points and Darren Collison with 10 points and 17 assists.
In Oladipo’s first game back after missing time with knee soreness, the Pacers notched their most impressive win of the 2018-19 season with a 113-97 victory over the Central Division-leading Milwaukee Bucks. While Oladipo’s return was certainly exciting, the Pacers front court stole the show in this one, with impressive performances from Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, and Thad Young.
While holding Bucks superstar and MVP hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo to a season low of 12 points, Young also gave the Pacers a boost on the offensive end, finishing with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals. Young’s effort was accompanied by that of Bogdanovic (16 points) and Turner (23 points), as Oladipo also finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists.
“Each game, we want to be better than we were the last game,” said Coach Nate McMillan after the team’s statement win over Milwaukee. “We have to continue to build off of this now that we have all of our guys healthy.”
Without Oladipo, the 2018-19 Pacers were able to gain some momentum while also growing stronger as a unit. Now with him back, Indiana can prove its full potential as they head into the final two-thirds of the 2018-19 NBA season.