Practice: Pacers Motivated for Friday's Tilt

April 4, 2019 - After practice on Thursday, head coach Nate McMillan and power forward Thaddeus Young talked about the fight for home-court advantage and the team's approach entering Friday's matchup with the Celtics.

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Practice: Pacers Motivated for Friday's Tilt

April 4, 2019 - After practice on Thursday, head coach Nate McMillan and power forward Thaddeus Young talked about the fight for home-court advantage and the team's approach entering Friday's matchup with the Celtics.
Apr 4, 2019  |  01:37

Depth at Guard Keeping Pacers in the Hunt

by Mark Montieth Writer

From the start of training camp, the Pacers' primary goal has been to not just make the playoffs, but secure homecourt advantage for at least the first round.

They go nose-to-nose with that ambition on Friday when they meet the Boston Celtics, with whom they share fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. A victory will enable them to control their destiny by winning their final two games. A loss would require them to win both games and for the Celtics to lose both.

More than ever, the Pacers have arrived at this moment via the approach that has carried them since their lone All-Star from last season, Victor Oladipo, was lost for the season to an injury on Jan. 23. They call it "next man up," although lately it has been "next men up." They've won their previous two games, both over a Detroit team fighting for a playoff spot, without their starting backcourt and reversed the downward spiral of losing seven of their previous eight games.

Darren Collison and Wesley Matthews could be back for Friday's game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, although that decision won't be made until earlier in the day. Matthews participated in Thursday's workout at St. Vincent Center and Collison was in a practice uniform and active in shooting drills.

Even if they can't play, however, the Pacers won't be bereft of hope given how their other guards have risen to the occasion.

"We've had that all season long," coach Nate McMillan said. "Guys have gone down with injuries and guys have stepped in and played well. Not just our guards, but our bigs."

But, lately, the guards especially.

Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans and Aaron Holiday have played unevenly over the previous two games but have kept the offense humming and the defense respectable. Bojan Bogdanovic and Doug McDermott have slid over from their forward positions to contribute scoring, but the three backup guards have done most of the dirty work in patchwork fashion.

Joseph scored just 10 total points in the two victories over the Pistons, but had 12 assists with just three turnovers in Wednesday's game in Detroit. Evans hit 4-of-6 3-pointers in Monday's win at The Fieldhouse. Holiday, playing less and less like a rookie, scored 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting on Monday and had six assists against just one turnover on Wednesday.

Aaron Holiday

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

"You have to keep the ship going," Joseph said. "Doing whatever it takes to get the team a W."

"We're deep," Collison added. "It doesn't matter who we have out there on the court. We all bring something to the table that's very impactful. We can interchange however we want."

Joseph's recent play has been most noticeable of the group, although not always for the right reasons. He's mired in a month-long shooting slump that has even him dumbfounded. He hasn't scored in double figures since the game against Orlando on March 2, something he had done 20 times this season before then. He's hit just 23 percent of his field goal attempts, including 3-of-17 3-pointers, in the 15 games since then.

This, from a player who hit 35 percent of his 3-pointers last season, including 44 percent over the first 30 games.

Joseph said he's studied film and can't find a structural reason for his slump. He'll count on the law of averages to bring him out of it.

"It's slowly starting to come back," he said. "I'm taking good shots. They should fall.

"I've worked too hard for it not to."

McMillan isn't ready to reduce Joseph's role, even if Collison can't play.

"He's missed some shots," McMillan said. "Get in the gym and work on it. We want to give him confidence, not snatch him off the floor and bury him on the bench because he's not making shots. Because he's doing so many other things. He's been one of the most consistent players for us all season long."

Joseph has the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio, 3.9 - 1, but his greatest impact comes on defense – which could come in handy on Friday against Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who beat the Pacers with a last-second layup in Boston last Friday.

"I always hang my hat on the defensive end," he said.

Regardless of who starts, who plays and who scores, the Pacers make no attempt to hide their ambition to win homecourt advantage - small wonder, given the fact the franchise has lost in the first round of the playoffs each of the past three seasons while opening on the road. McMillan has pounded the point home, and the players for the most part have bought in.

"We have to treat it like a playoff game," Domantas Sabonis said. "We're going to fight for home court."

"It's one extra game at home," Thad Young said. "We all know what type of deal that is and how huge that can be. We definitely want homecourt advantage."

Collison was been a slight exception, emphasizing how quickly homecourt advantage can be won by the road team with a victory in Games 1 or 2 of the playoffs. He's not speaking from experience, because the team with homecourt advantage has won each of the six playoff series in which he's played. Perhaps he's hedging in case it doesn't work out, and making a point of remaining optimistic.

"I don't really buy into playing for homecourt or for a high seed; you just have to play your best," he said. "We're starting to get on the right track, and that's all that matters."

Call that a guarded approach. Which perhaps make sense for a team deep in guards.

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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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