Pacers Sloppy, But Well-Intended
The Pacers are like a new dress shirt, all folded up and pinned together. Their look is fresh and promising, but they need time to iron out the wrinkles. And, frankly, four preseason games won't be enough.
They had 28 of them in Friday's 105-87 victory over Chicago, after piling up 24 and 20 in the wins over Sacramento in India last weekend. That's not good, but it's also not surprising this time of the year with a team still getting unwrapped.
Chicago rested four veterans – Zach Lavine, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky and former Pacer Thad Young - and four other players with injuries, leaving behind a young and unproven makeshift group that should not have been able to challenge the Pacers, and mostly didn't.
The availa-bulls did play hard and fast, though, which made the game valuable preparation for the Pacers.
"What we faced tonight is what we're going to face throughout the season," coach Nate McMillan said. "We're a big team. They're going to look to be aggressive, force the tempo, get up and pressure us, get underneath us. I didn't think we did a good job of taking care of the ball. A lot of dribbling in traffic as opposed to getting the ball moving and playing with our head up."
The Pacers will have just one more exhibition game, next Tuesday against Minnesota, to straighten out their act. They'll no doubt need some regular season games as well, as will most NBA teams but in the meantime they appear to have enough assets to smooth over the rough edges.
Foremost among them so far has been their effort and chemistry. They might throw the ball away too often, but at least they're trying to throw it somewhere. They had 26 assists on 26 field goals, compared to Chicago's 14 assists on 35 field goals. They even overpassed on a few occasions, one of those "good problems" of the preseason, particularly for a team with four new starters.
Their good intentions were displayed on the game's opening possession. Malcolm Brogdon, pressured 30 feet from the basket, slipped a pass to T.J. Warren who was cutting backdoor from the left wing. Warren took one dribble to the rim and kicked out a pass to Jeremy Lamb, who buried a 3-pointer on the right side.
Then there was the possession midway through the quarter when Brogdon slipped a bounce pass through traffic to Domantas Sabonis, who immediately fired a one-handed pass to Myles Turner in the right corner, who passed up a shot to swing the ball to Lamb on the right wing, who passed up a shot to swing the ball back to Brogdon out front, who hit another 3-pointer.
The impact of that approach was sprinkled throughout the box score. Six Pacers scored in double figures, including four starters. The lone exception was Sabonis, who hit just 3-of-12 shots but as he tends to do, found a way to make amends by grabbing 14 rebounds and adding three assists with just one turnover.
Warren led the Pacers' scoring for the second time in three pre-season games with 17 points but had six turnovers. Brogdon had 14 points, hitting three-of-four 3-pointers, and balanced four assists and four turnovers. Turner had 13 points and five blocked shots. Lamb scored in double figures for the third time with 10 points and added seven rebounds and a game-high five assists. Off the bench, Doug McDermott scored 14 points in 16 minutes and Edmond Sumner had 10 points and four assists.
The Pacers' defense is difficult to measure given the caliber of competition, but they at least had something to do with Chicago shooting 38 percent from the field and 18.5 percent from 3-point range. And, they outrebounded the Bulls 50-48 to follow up on their domination of Sacramento on the boards.
The Pacers also deserve honorable mention credit for taking the game as seriously as they did. Not that they've earned the right to overlook anyone, but they could have succumbed to human nature and downshifted their aggression once they saw the collection of Bulls lining up for the opening tip.
"They didn't have their main guys, but we came out and competed," Brogdon said.
"A lot of times you see starting groups come out and look at their opponent and take them pretty lightly. We didn't do that tonight."
McMillan expressed no disappointment over not facing Chicago's starters before the game, remaining focused on his own team's growth. Brogdon, though, would have rather played Chicago's finest.
"Absolutely," he said. "You relish competition in the NBA. You want to play the starting group."
The Pacers will take Saturday off from practice, play a brief scrimmage as part of Fan Jam activities on Sunday, play the Timberwolves on Tuesday and then have a week of practice before opening the season against Detroit on Oct. 23.
That might not be enough time to eliminate all of the excess turnovers from their diet, but it should be sufficient to instill better judgement.
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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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