GAME RECAP: Pacers 109, Bucks 96

Victor Oladipo scores 15 points and dishes out 5 assists as the Pacers defeat the Bucks, 109-96.

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GAME RECAP: Pacers 109, Bucks 96

Victor Oladipo scores 15 points and dishes out 5 assists as the Pacers defeat the Bucks, 109-96.
Jan 8, 2018  |  01:16

Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Jan. 8, 2018

January 8, 2018 - Players Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Domantas Sabonis, and Myles Turner give their thoughts on their impressive victory over the Bucks on Monday.
Jan 8, 2018  |  02:08

Postgame: McMillan Press Conference - Jan. 8, 2018

January 8, 2018 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan spoke to the media following Indiana's 109-96 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jan 8, 2018  |  06:17

Oladipo Caps the Third

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  05:18

Oladipo Races for the Finish

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  04:58

Sabonis Finishes Inbound Lob

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  05:32

Lance to Leaf

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  06:25

Pacers Share on the Break

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  05:35

Turner Fastbreak Throwdown

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  06:04

Thad Finishes Give-&-Go

January 08, 2018: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers - Highlights
Jan 8, 2018  |  05:01

Young, Leaf Expanding Pacers' Rotation

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

On first glance, it seemed a game with no angle, no storyline to develop. Nobody had an outstanding individual performance and there were no dramatic turning points, just good defense and seven players scoring between 10 and 17 points.

But that is the angle.

The Pacers are becoming a more balanced team, and a deeper one, too. Nate McMillan is finally able to break away from the eight-man rotation that seemed destined to wear down his core players. He played 10 for at least 13 minutes in Monday's 109-96 victory over Milwaukee at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, just as he did, repeating his approach to the win over Chicago on Saturday.

It helps, of course, to have blowout games that enable a coach to play his reserves more minutes. The Pacers took control of each of their past two games early, and never seemed in danger of
losing the rest of the way. Joe Young and TJ Leaf, however, are earning McMillan's trust to a level that he seems willing to play them in tight games, too.

"Joe and TJ have been working hard all year and it's showing through their play," Myles Turner said. "They're coming in early every day and preparing themselves for that moment, so it's important to get that production."

Young played 15 1/2 minutes against the Bucks, while Leaf got in for slightly more than 13. They didn't stand out, but didn't hurt the cause, either. In fact, they fit right into a game in which the Pacers accumulated 30 assists — five more than McMillan's goal for the team — by moving the ball well and not caring who scored.

They, not coincidentally, are 5-0 when finishing with 30 or more assists, and 4-0 when seven or more players score at least 10 points. While McMillan doesn't have goals related to scoring balance, he does appreciate it.

"You're going to have a number of guys in double figures when you're moving the ball like that," he said.

Young has played double-figure minutes in the past six games, going back to Dec. 27. He had done so in only four games prior to that. He earned McMillan's trust but playing more like a genuine NBA point guard with his decision-making. Where he once seemed intent on impressing the coaches by trying to score as much as possible in garbage-time minutes, he has been taking better care of the ball and showing more patience.

He's also playing much better defense. As a scoring combo guard at Oregon, defense wasn't a priority, and remained down the list his first two NBA seasons. He made it a priority over the summer, by strengthening his core muscles, which allows him to weather the physical nature of battling through screens. More often than not he picks up his man fullcourt, something he's taken upon himself to do, rather than at the direction of coaches.

After averaging 3.8 points as a rookie, he dropped to 2.1 points last season. His job status appeared to be in jeopardy over the summer, but outgoing President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird and incoming president Kevin Pritchard thought enough of him to keep him another season. He's backed their trust by averaging 4.2 points on 48 percent shooting, highlighted by his career-high 20-point outing against Minnesota.

"The game's slowing down for me," he said.

Likewise for Leaf. The rookie forward proved himself as an offensive threat in the preseason when he scored 18 points in the fourth quarter of a game at Cleveland, and again when he scored 17 in his second regular season game against Portland, but was a defensive liability. He's improved by getting stronger in the weight room and learning how to contend with the physical nature of NBA defense.

"TJ has been much better defensively, much more physical," McMillan said. "We know he's capable of scoring the ball. We even went with him on (Giannis) Antetokounmpo a couple of possessions. He did a solid job of staying in front of him."

The Pacers have been a drastically different team these past two games than the one that lost five in a row before that. Victor Oladipo's return obviously has a lot to do with that, but the energy has been ramped up even when Oladipo isn't in the game.

Who's to say the expanded rotation doesn't have something to do with that? Nobody played more than the 33 minutes Oladipo played on Monday and three of the starters played less than 30 minutes.

"These last two games I think they've been more energized, because they have had some rest," Leaf said. "Nate trusts us a little bit more."

Trust can go a long way. Especially when it's 10 deep.


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