Pacers On Getting Back To Basics

Dec. 2, 2021 - Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte and Brad Wanamaker speak with the media about playing with force ahead of their matchup against the Miami HEAT.

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Pacers On Getting Back To Basics

Dec. 2, 2021 - Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte and Brad Wanamaker speak with the media about playing with force ahead of their matchup against the Miami HEAT.
Dec 2, 2021  |  01:57

Pacers Remaining Together Amid Adversity

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Just past the quarter-mark of the season, the Pacers aren't where they want to be. At 9-15 after dropping three straight games, the Blue & Gold are searching for answers after a string of close losses.

Indiana is six games under .500, but has a positive point differential on the season, a clear sign that the team is better than its record. But after Wednesday's 114-111 loss to Atlanta, the Pacers are just 1-7 in games decided by three points or less. Those seven losses don't even count last Wednesday's overtime defeat against the Lakers, another game that could have been a win if just a play or two unfolded differently.

All of those losses have clearly been a source of frustration in the locker room, but the Pacers insist they are staying together and working hard on a variety of approaches to address their recent struggles.

After Wednesday's game, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle led the entire team in an extensive film session where they re-watched the entire first half.

On Thursday, the team was back on the court at the Ascension St. Vincent Center practice facility, where Carlisle said the team got "back to the basics" in terms of their defensive and offensive principles.

After the media entered practice, the players were spread across the two courts shooting. Carlisle made his way to each and every basket and had lengthy conversations with a number of players, including Domantas Sabonis, Chris Duarte, and Torrey Craig. Carlisle said that he told the team earlier this week that he and the assistants would be devoting more time toward individual work with the players, something that definitely appeared to be an emphasis on Thursday.

"We're just at a place where we've got to do everything possible to create small edges, little competitive advantages," Carlisle said. "Film study's an important part of it. Guys can learn what we need them to do better within our team system and also a lot of it's about individual development as well."

After watching film on Wednesday night, Carlisle told the media he wanted to see the players "play with force," a sentiment that was again the theme of Thursday's media availability.

"Instead of waiting to get hit, we've got to hit first," Pacers center Myles Turner said. "I think that just sets the tone for the game. A lot of times, it sets the tone for the refs as well. When you're out there being the more physical team, you get away with more calls. We've got to assert ourselves earlier."

The Pacers haven't been helped by a brutal schedule that saw them play 12 of their first 19 games of the season on the road. They have had just one two-day break between games and it came on the road in early November (their first two-game break at home will finally come this weekend).

The schedule seemingly got easier with a stretch of nine of 10 games at home that began last week, but Indiana is now halfway through that schedule with a 1-4 record. It doesn't get any easier, either. While the Pacers' next five games are all at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, all five of their opponents currently have winning records (so, too, did the three teams that beat Indiana at the Fieldhouse over the past week).

"All these games are hard," Carlisle said Thursday. "We get another hard one tomorrow (against 13-9 Miami)."

In addition to the losses, players have been battling individual challenges.

Rookie guard Duarte was ejected after receiving two technical fouls in Monday's loss in Minnesota, then missed a potential go-ahead layup in the closing seconds of Wednesday's loss (it didn't help that the referees didn't call a foul on Atlanta guard Kevin Huerter, who replays showed clearly grabbed Duarte's jersey on the play). Duarte said he "couldn't sleep" on Wednesday night after the latest loss.

Several players have also battled illness or injury over the past couple weeks. Turner did not play on Monday due to a non-COVID illness. Justin Holiday went into the NBA's health and safety protocols on Tuesday, snapping his streak of 250 consecutive games played. Craig had to receive an I.V. prior to Wednesday's game and then T.J. McConnell exited the contest early with a right wrist injury.

Still, the Pacers are doing their best to remain upbeat despite all the adversity. Turner, a seven-year veteran and the longest-tenured Pacer, said his message to his teammates has been to "stay the course."

"Winning cures everything," Turner said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Wins are also hard to come by in this league. When you're going through stretches like this, you've got to realize that it's not like we're getting blown out every game. We're in all these games. We're putting ourselves in position to win. We've just got to go out and execute."

Brad Wanamaker, Lou Williams

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

McConnell Out, Wanamaker Ready to Step Up

While Carlisle was not able to reveal specifics on Thursday, he said that the initial prognosis was that McConnell is "going to be out for a while" due to his wrist injury. Further updates could come as early as Friday.

Losing McConnell is a significant blow for the Blue & Gold. The 6-1 guard is an emotional catalyst of the team and especially the second unit. His all-out energy, pushing the pace on offense and pestering opponents for 94 feet defensively, makes him a fan favorite and he relishes getting the crowd involved into games.

With McConnell sidelined, Brad Wanamaker will take over backup point guard duties. The 32-year-old signed with Indiana mid-training camp on Oct. 6 and wound up making the team. Carlisle liked his experience in the event of an injury to McConnell or starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon and now he will be called upon.

Wanamaker has appeared in 12 games this season and tallied seven points and four assists in 16 minutes on Wednesday after McConnell went down. His last extensive playing time prior to that came on Nov. 19 in Charlotte, when he scored 12 points in 20 minutes and nearly helped Indiana's reserves pull off an improbable comeback after Carlisle benched the starters early in the second half.

"Brad played very well last night," Carlisle said. "He showed us that he's ready, he's kept himself ready. He played really well in that game at Charlotte a week and a half ago. He's a veteran, knows our system, knows his strength. And so he's going to be an important part of the picture here."

Though he didn't have an NBA deal when training camp started, Wanamaker now finds himself in Indiana's rotation just a couple months later.

"I kept myself physically and mentally ready," he said. "Obviously it's an opportunity now. Just got to come out there and try to lead, try to make some plays for us on both ends of the floor, and try to bring some juice to the team."

Craig, meanwhile, was back on the court and feeling good at practice on Thursday. Carlisle said he was feeling ill in the hours before Wednesday's game, so he received an I.V. for 30 minutes prior to the game. He felt well enough to play and saw four minutes of action, but was considerably improved on Thursday and a full participant in practice.

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