Jan. 23, 2019 is a day that will go down in infamy amongst all Pacers fans.
I was there to soak in all the sorrow firsthand. I felt the uncomfortable silence in Bankers Life Fieldhouse as players and team staff surrounded Victor. This was followed by an emotional win over Toronto, which gave way to a tear-jerking press conference from Coach Nate McMillan.
"That kid has a beautiful spirit about him,” McMillan said. “He's the most positive guy on this team. He has always been one to try and lift his team and lift us. We've got to lift him now."
Now that Oladipo has officially been diagnosed with a season-ending injury to his quad tendon, it certainly throws a wrench in the Pacers’ plans going forward. With a current record of 32-15, Indiana still has plenty to fight for, however. As the team adjusts to playing without their star, they look to forge ahead with his same positivity.
“We can’t look back and be sad,” said Thad Young after Pacers practice following the injury diagnosis. “He’s going to want us to be happy and positive, and continue to lift him because he’s going to continue to lift us.”
With this same spirit, I’ll choose to focus on the positives as the 2018-19 Pacers head towards the finish line. Here are some things I’m especially stoked to watch during these final 35 games.
This Team Is Deep: Anyone who’s watched the Pacers thus far this season knows their biggest strength is their depth. The team has several players up and down the roster that can score in double-figures each and every night. In Oladipo’s absence, guys like Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, and Thad Young will simply need to pick up the slack. All in all, this team is really fun to watch when they’ve got a balanced scoring attack rolling.
Tyreke 2.0: Since receiving treatment on his right knee, Tyreke Evans has scored in double-figures in 11 of his last 13 games, looking more and more like the player Pacers fans dreamt of this offseason. Now as he enters the starting lineup, Evans will need to sustain this hot streak.
Holiday Greetings: With Evans back in the starting lineup, Pacers fans will get to watch more Aaron Holiday action. A rookie guard with explosive scoring promise, Holiday impressed when Oladipo was out earlier in the season. Now with a solid role in the rotation through season’s end, the UCLA star can find his footing once more.
Summon the Sumner: Throughout Pacers preseason, a lot of talk surrounded promising young guard Edmond Sumner. Having averaged 23.9 points in 17 games for the G League Mad Ants, Sumner has now been called back up to the blue and gold, where he’ll assist Aaron Holiday with guard duties off the bench.