What a difference a week can make.
When I last left you, Pacers Nation was in an uproar due to a string of losses from the hometown team. In the five games following Indiana’s Nov. 7 loss to Philadelphia, however, the team has gone 4-1, despite Victor Oladipo missing time due to knee soreness.
In my last column, I pointed out the Pacers’ offensive and defensive rankings in the NBA, and how those rankings were quite similar to that of the 2017-18 team. This week, however, the 2018-19 squad showed one way that they do differ from last year’s Pacers.
These Pacers can win without Victor Oladipo.
As stat extraordinaire Pat Boylan points out, the 2017-18 Pacers went 0-7 in games that Oladipo did not play. Fans can certainly remember how the team sputtered without No. 4 last year, especially on the offensive end. This season, though, the Pacers have flipped the script, winning three straight when Oladipo either struggled or missed time due to injury.
On Friday, Nov. 9, the Pacers kicked off their recent stretch of success with a win in Miami by the score of 110-102. As has been a trend throughout all of the Pacers’ wins this season, scoring was pretty evenly distributed. Oladipo led the way with 22 points, but the All-Star guard got help. Sabonis earned his usual numbers off the bench, racking up 17 points and 11 boards. Both point guards also played well, as Darren Collison finished with 17 points and Cory Joseph finished with 14 points.
The team’s lone loss in their past five games came in Houston, where a newly Carmelo-less Rockets team took it to Indiana by a score of 115-103. James Harden balled out, lighting up the Pacers for 40 points. Indiana did shoot fairly well throughout the game, while also beating out Houston in the assist and rebound departments. In true Mike D’Antoni fashion, however, the Rockets made 20 3-pointers in the game, while the Pacers only managed to hit 11.
The Pacers kicked off a three-game home stretch with a 99-91 win over Miami on Friday, Nov. 16. Despite only getting 8 points from Oladipo, the Pacers were able to pull out the victory, thanks in part to Tyreke Evans’ excellent performance off the bench. In addition to a season-high 23 points from Evans, Indiana got great play out of both of its centers, as Myles Turner finished with 12 points/7 rebounds/3 blocks and Domantas Sabonis finished with 15 points/12 rebounds.
The team continued their winning ways on Saturday, Nov. 17 with a 97-89 win over the Hawks. After an early exit from Oladipo due to knee soreness, the blue and gold were able to pull out a win in a game that will be remembered by fans as Aaron Holiday’s coming out party (cue the Weezer). After Coach Nate McMillan’s bold decision to insert the rookie into the lineup, Holiday erupted for 12 points in just 15 minutes off the bench, giving Indiana a much-needed boost late in the game.
“He was ready for it. He prepared himself,” said McMillan of Holiday’s performance after the game. “We don’t win this game if he doesn’t come in and play the way he did on both ends of the floor.”
Following Saturday’s outing, the Pacers extended their winning streak to three games with an impressive 121-94 blowout of the Utah Jazz. With Oladipo out, the Pacers had to win as a team, which is just what they did. Indiana assisted on 35-of-49 made field goals and finished with six players in double-figures. For the second straight game, Holiday was excellent off the bench, racking up 19 points in just 21 minutes. Even more impressive was Sabonis’ effort, as the versatile big man had a near triple-double (19 points/9 rebounds/9 assists).
“We’re deep enough where a guy like Aaron comes in for Tyreke off the bench and plays well,” said Collison after the game. “Tyreke comes in for Vic, and he plays well. We’re good enough all-around for guys to step up.”
The Pacers currently hold a record of 11-6, which puts them at third place overall in the Eastern Conference. To close out the month of November, the team will play four-of-five on the road, including a Nov. 29 matchup with Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
As is clearly the case now, this Indiana Pacers team plays its best when spreading the ball around. Going into this stretch of games away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, it’s imperative that the squad continues to play unselfishly, whether Oladipo is out on the court or not.