The easiest games to write and talk about are those in which an exceptional individual performance or a game-clinching play creates an obvious story line. Reggie Miller scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds is a much simpler story to tell than eight or nine players doing a variety of things to contribute to a victory.
That's how the Pacers did it in their 107-97 victory over Sacramento at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday and how they've been doing it for the past three weeks, a collective approach that has overcome the loss of their lone All-Star, the speed bumps in the schedule, and even room service shrimp.
One could go with any one of eight angles to describe this one, as seven Pacers scored in double figures and another, Myles Turner, grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Thaddeus Young scored a season-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Bojan Bogdanovic, who has generally escaped notice because of his consistency, added 18 points for his 17th consecutive game in double figures. Darren Collison had six assists without a turnover, giving him 14 assists and zero turnovers for the weekend. Tyreke Evans played one of his better games as a starter with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Doug McDermott established adversity for himself with a scoreless first half, but scored 10 in the second. Cory Joseph made most of the plays that broke open the game in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 points, five rebounds, eight assists, and one turnover.
If any one player stood out as newsworthy, however, it was Domantas Sabonis. He watched Friday's victory in Orlando from his hotel room bed, having succumbed to food poisoning. Sabonis, like coach Nate McMillan, had ordered shrimp for his room service dinner on Thursday and both paid dearly for it.
Sabonis was up all night doing the unfortunate things people with food poisoning have to do after that meal and was in no condition to play against the Magic. He felt better after waking up in Indianapolis Saturday morning, and decided to play after going through pregame warmups. His only meal since his ill-fated choice from the room service menu 48 hours earlier was pasta in the locker room before the game, with a side dish of intravenous fluids.
He struggled to catch his wind in the first half, but felt better in the second and finished with 14 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes.
"He's as tough as they come," Turner said. "I had no question he was going to play tonight. He leaves it all out there for the team, makes all the hustle plays, all the stuff that doesn't show up in the stat sheet.
"If I didn't know any better I would have thought it was a normal game for him."
Sabonis skipped his normal postgame routine of massage, stretching, and the cold tub. He put on a winter coat, stopped for a couple of minutes to talk with reporters, then headed straight home to go to bed.
"I still don't feel hungry," he said. Especially for shrimp, it could be added.
The Pacers improved to 7-4 without Oladipo this season (Photo Credit: Jessica Hoffman)
What he felt during the game was a desire to pick up the slack left by the starters, who fell behind by 12 points early in the second quarter.
"At the beginning of the second half, me and Cory were talking about how the first unit looked a bit tired from the back-to-back and we wanted to bring energy and try to do something to bring us up," Sabonis said. "I think we did a good job."
He's not wrong. The Pacers entered the fourth quarter with a three-point lead over the Kings, who had won in Cleveland on Friday. It was a one-point lead after Justin Jackson hit his second 3-pointer of the period with 8:13 left, but the Pacers dominated the rest of the way.
McDermott hit a 3-pointer a step behind the line, then Sabonis hit a short jump hook off a spin move in the lane two possessions later, forcing a Sacramento timeout. Moments later, Joseph hit a 15-footer after improvising a 12-foot jump shot out of a stymied offense just ahead of the shot clock buzzer. Sabonis hustled to grab the rebound of McDermott's missed shot on the Pacers' next possession, which led to Joseph powering his way into the lane and dropping off a pass to Young, who scored, drew a foul, and converted the three-point play.
Young converted another three-point play off Bogdanovic's assist on the following possession, then Joseph stripped the ball from Nemanja Bjelica at the 3-point line and lobbed a perfect lead pass to Bogdanovic, whose streaking left-handed dunk gave the Pacers a 99-85 lead with 4:43 left.
"We were going to need a team win tonight," McMillan said.
Just as they did on Friday. The only difference was that Kyle O'Quinn filled in for sick-bed Sabonis with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Saturday, O'Quinn went back to watching but at least provided the assurance that a capable center was on hand if Sabonis couldn't go.
That kind of balance and depth has been a major factor in the Pacers' league-best 5-0 record in the second game of back-to-backs this season. The caliber of the opponents has something to do with that. They've defeated Brooklyn, Boston, Atlanta, Phoenix, and the Kings in those games, and Boston is the only team in that group likely to reach the playoffs. Still, that record within their record says something positive about the Pacers' balance, depth and resilience, particularly amid Oladipo's absence.
There's no heroic figure in their story, and rarely a defining moment or plot twist in their games. But happy endings are beginning to accumulate, and tell a tale of their own.
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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 Amazon.com.
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