T.J. McConnell
(Emil Vajgrt)

Pacers Are "True Team," Advance in Playoffs with Group Effort

All season long, the Indiana Pacers have played a style of basketball reflective of the core tenets that make Hoosiers hysterical for the game.

Leading the NBA in bench scoring and assists for the regular season, the Pacers relied on a team-first approach to achieve a 47-35 record and advance to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

In the postseason, that style of play put the Blue & Gold in a position to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time in a decade, and those core values and tactics instilled by the players and coaching staff from the beginning came through when it mattered most.

After a disappointing Game 5 loss, the Pacers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 120-98 in Game 6 on Thursday of their first-round series to advance to the semis for the first time since 2014.

The most significant difference in the final box score? The Pacers bench outscored the Bucks' second unit 50-10 in the runaway victory, as six players scored in double figures and the team dished out 33 total assists.

“The thing that I love about our team is that we’re a true team,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got some great individual players, but we’re a group that needs each other. And I think that’s something that people of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana can get behind.”

A majority of the bench production in the game came from fiery point guard T.J. McConnell, who posted a playoff-career-best 20 points and nine assists, and first-year Pacer Obi Toppin, who logged a personal postseason-high of 20 points to go along with eight rebounds.

After an up-and-down start to the series for the bench, Game 6 marked the first time in the playoffs that both McConnell and Toppin – the second unit’s leading scorers – finished in double-digit scoring. Both McConnell and Toppin got the crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on their feet with their effort and infectious energy.

“I think tonight, all of us just had a mentality of ‘we’re going to go out there and go to another level competitively,’ and that’s kind of the bench I saw all season,” McConnell said. “I’m happy for every guy that has come off the bench this season.”

In the first quarter of Game 6, it immediately became apparent McConnell and Toppin would have nights to remember.

Toppin scored nine points while pulling down three rebounds in the first quarter, prompting the home crowd to chant his name, while McConnell posted six points and four assists in the period to help the team to a 33-24 lead.

After helping maintain the lead in the second quarter, with the Pacers holding a 59-47 advantage at the break, Toppin’s services were required early in the third as starting center Myles Turner picked up his fourth foul.

Toppin then made the most of his time on the floor in the third quarter, recording 10 points on shots varying from alley-oop lobs to 3-pointers to help push the Pacers in front 93-78.

Before the game, Toppin said he spoke with McConnell, who told him that he was one of the best players in the world when he gets to running the floor.

“Everybody just listens to each other,” Toppin said of his teammates. “Whether you’re a starter, whether you are on the bench. Everybody is trying to get better out there and we are always trying to put each other in position to be successful.”

The veteran point guard, who also had four steals in the game including one of his well-known in-bounds swipes, helped put on the finishing touches in the fourth quarter for Indiana.

McConnell put together a trio of highlight buckets in the final frame for seven points, including a spinning layup around Bucks All-Star guard Damian Lillard and a sequence where he wrestled around center Bobby Portis for one of his signature fallaway jumpers to fire up the crowd and keep the visitors at bay.

When McConnell exited the game in the final minutes, the sold-out arena gave him a standing ovation.

As the Pacers look ahead to their semifinals matchup with the Knicks, the Blue & Gold will continue to look for their depth to win games. Indiana went 39-5 in the regular season when six or more players scored in double figures and is currently 3-0 in the playoffs when that happens.

“I don’t really think there’s a lot of ego with our group…I don’t think we really deal with that a lot in our locker room,” Turner said. “I think we do a great job of communicating more than anything. If we see one guy’s going, we try to go back to him. If we see one guy’s off, we try to give him energy. That’s what it’s about. Being a team. I think we’re the epitome of that. We have two All-Stars on our team, but we have guys that play above their role. That’s something that doesn’t happen a lot in this league.”

Indiana Pacers Postgame Media Availability vs. Milwaukee Bucks (Game 6) | May 2, 2024