Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Goga Bitadze, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner discuss Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Goga Bitadze, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner discuss Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Oct 15, 2019  |  01:38

Postgame: McMillan Press Conference - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan speaks with the media following Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Oct 15, 2019  |  06:57

Goga Bitadze Scores His First Points for the Pacers

October 15, 2019 - Pacers first round pick Goga Bitadze drains the basket in the paint to score his first points as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:07

McConnell Lobs to Turner

October 15, 2019 - T.J. McConnell finds Myles Turner at the rim for alley-oop conversion.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:06

Domas and Warren Connect for the Basket

October 15, 2019 - Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Warren run the give and go for the easy bucket inside.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:07

Bitadze Shows Promise in Rust-Shaking Trial Run

by Mark Montieth Writer

The drought ended with 2:32 left in the first quarter, bringing his first competition against an angry opponent since last April. But while Goga Bitadze was destined to get drenched by the realities of NBA play on occasion, he managed to lend credence to those sunny forecasts.

The Pacers' first-round draft pick scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 24-plus minutes in Tuesday's 119-111 preseason loss to Minnesota at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. He also committed six turnovers and suffered through some arduous on-the-job training in defending elite centers, but it would have been unreasonable to expect anything else.

Karl-Anthony Towns was the first pick of the 2015 Draft and has been voted to the Western Conference All-Star team the past two seasons, so he was bound to have his moments against a 20-year-old kid playing his first game on American hardwood. Moments such as a 3pointer, a fading 16-footer and a driving floater on consecutive possessions early in the third period, and then a put-back dunk, driving layup, and a step-back 3-pointer from 30 feet on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter.

As initiations go, it amounted to hazing at times. But it had its merits.

"It couldn't have worked out any better," Myles Turner said. "To go up against an All-Star in his first game...if you can defend him, you can defend a lot of bigs in this league. (Bitadze) has a ways to go but for his first game he played great."

Bitadze's debut was delayed by the Pacers' inability to obtain a working visa before Summer League play began in July and by a sprained ankle that kept him out of the first three preseason games. When he finally got his chance, though, he looked the part of an NBA player. A young one who's never experienced the speed of an NBA game, but one who belongs.

He fumbled a pass off his chest shortly after entering the game, but quickly settled in. He showed no fear around the basket and he showed off a deft shooting touch from the perimeter by hitting 2-of-3 3-pointers in a 2 1/2 minute span in the third quarter.

He also showed poise. Although a colorful personality off the court and the star of one of the most entertaining introductory press conferences in Pacers franchise history, Bitadze played it straight through the game. Played it professionally, you might say. While his teammates on the bench celebrated the second 3-pointer that gave the Pacers a 76-73 lead and forced a Timberwolves timeout with 5:10 left in the period, he revealed no hint of ecstasy.

"I have to keep playing, you know?" he said from in front of his locker afterward. "Not to be too excited about some plays. Sometimes I'm going to make shots and sometimes I'm not. But it's good to see my teammates are loving it."

Goga Bitadze

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

His teammates have been praising his play and his prospects since the pre-training camp scrimmages began in August. They talk of his shooting touch, his physical play around the basket, his passing ability, his rim protection, his instincts. Turner had said on Monday that Bitadze is more advanced than he had been entering the NBA as a 19-year-old four years ago.

"He impacts the game so many ways," T.J. McConnell said. "Big-time players do it on both ends and he certainly does that. With more game experience his head's not going to be spinning as much. With game experience he's going to be very good in this league with his ability to shoot it, put it on the floor, and affects shots at the rim.

"He's been doing this in the practices he's been able to practice. I know everyone loves playing with him. We're not surprised what we saw tonight, that's for sure."

Pacers coach Nate McMillan did his best to structure a challenging but reasonable break-in period for his rookie. Bitadze played the final 2 1/2 minutes of the first quarter, the first four of the second, the first eight of the third, and the last 9 1/2 of the fourth. He had both of his assists and just one turnover in the final period.

"I was a little bit nervous from beginning but my teammates and coaches helped me a lot," he said. "It was really good for me to be back on the court."

How long did it take him to feel comfortable?

"I still need to get used to it," he said. "We'll see how it goes."

The Pacers need Bitadze to adjust quickly, because he's penciled in as the backup center for the season-opener against Detroit on Oct. 23. Both Turner and Sabonis can play center, but now that they're starting together, they'll need relief on occasion. There's no viable option for McMillan other than going small, which wouldn't be a promising strategy against many lineups, including the Detroit five that features Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin.

"If he's ready to go we'll put him out there," McMillan said.

"This season will be about him growing and getting some opportunities here and there."

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.


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