The Pacers tipped off a new era on Wednesday night, but it was a number of familiar faces leading Indiana to victory in Nate Bjorkgren's debut as head coach at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Domantas Sabonis picked up where he left off last season, racking up another double-double. Malcolm Brogdon was his steady self, flirting with a triple-double. Victor Oladipo came to life in the second half, scoring 16 points over the final two quarters. And Myles Turner anchored the defense, matching his career high with eight blocks.
In the end it added up to a 121-107 victory and the first career win for Bjorkgren, who took over the reins as head coach of a team that returned its top 13 players from last season.
"This is a great win," Oladipo said. "Congrats to Coach for his first win, that's big time. We can be a really good team. We've just got to build on it, but it was a great first night."
No fans were allowed at Wednesday's game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Pacers created their own energy in the second half, turning a five-point halftime deficit into an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Five Pacers scored in double figures in the victory. Sabonis led all scorers with a career-high 32 points (22 in the first half), going 11-for-18 from the field, 2-for-3 from 3-point range, and 6-for-10 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 13 rebounds and dished out five assists in his first regular season game in over nine months (he missed the 2019-20 season restart due to plantar fasciitis).
"I was really excited," Sabonis said after the victory. "I couldn't even really take my pregame nap just thinking about it."
Two-time All-Star Oladipo scored the first points of the season on a fastbreak layup, but it was Sabonis, Indiana's most recent All-Star, who dominated in the early going. The 6-11 big man may be known for his work on the block, but he knocked down two early 3-pointers in addition to converting an old-fashioned three-point play on his way to 11 points in the first six minutes of the game.
Brogdon was just as good in the opening quarter, racking up 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four assists, three rebounds, and two steals in the frame.
Indiana led by as many as eight points in the quarter, but the Knicks rallied to take a three-point lead on Alec Burks' 3-pointer with 2:10 remaining. The Pacers responded with eight straight points to surge back in front, however, and took a 35-33 lead into the second quarter.
Burks and RJ Barrett carried New York's offense in the second quarter, scoring 21 of the Knicks' first 26 points to help the visitors open up a 59-53 lead. Sabonis and Brogdon each converted three-point plays during an 8-2 Pacers run to tie the game at 61, but Barrett's 3-pointer and Burks' layup gave the Knicks a 66-61 lead at the intermission.
Oladipo came to life in the third quarter, hitting five straight shots and scoring Indiana's first 11 points of the second half. The former Indiana University star then assisted on four of the Pacers' next five baskets to cap a 22-11 Pacers run to open the half.
"When he gets going downhill, when he gets the opponent on their heels in attack mode, he's really tough to guard," Bjorkgren said. "That's what we need on this team. We're trying to create that space, we are creating that space, and then we need to drive and get to the rim."
The Pacers remained in front for the remainder of the third quarter, thanks in part to the defense of Turner. The Blue & Gold's center blocked three shots in the closing minutes of the frame to help Indiana maintain an 88-82 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
"I thought defensively we were much more active in the second half and then it created a bunch more offensive opportunities for us," Bjorkgren said. "As you know, those things go hand in hand."
The Pacers extended their lead to 12 points by the midway point of the final frame and pulled away from there, removing some stress from Bjorkgren in the final minutes of his debut.
Oladipo added 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, four rebounds, and four assists. Brogdon tallied 21 points, seven boards, eight assists, and two steals.
Doug McDermott chipped in 13 points and five rebounds off the bench, while Turner accumulated 10 points, eight rebounds, and eight blocks in under 30 minutes of action.
Barrett led New York with 26 points, eight boards, and five assists, finishing the night 11-for-15 after going 8-for-8 in the first half. Burks added 22 points off the bench while going 6-for-12 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line.
The Pacers will return to action after Christmas. They will be in Chicago on Saturday night for their first road game of the season and then back at The Fieldhouse on Sunday to host Boston in the first of two straight games against the Celtics.
Photo Credit: Matt Kryger
Inside the Numbers
Sabonis' 32 points surpassed his previous career high of 30, a mark he reached twice, most recently against the Knicks in New York on Oct. 31, 2018.
Oladipo's nine field goals matched his most made shots in 23 contests (regular season and playoffs) last season.
Indiana outscored the Knicks 68-52 in the paint and 30-11 on the fastbreak on Wednesday.
After attempting 40 or more 3-pointers in all three of their preseason games, the Pacers went 8-for-34 (23.5 percent) from beyond the arc on Wednesday.
The Pacers outrebounded the Knicks 50-40 overall and 10-5 on the offensive glass.
You Can Quote Me On That
"I just thought we were much better defensively there in the second half. The guys kept fighting...I thought Myles Turner really came in and did a good job, had a big third quarter." -Bjorkgren on the difference after halftime
"He was amazing, man. We need Myles to do that at the highest level. He doesn't know how much that really means and we appreciate him...To have somebody like that back there to have our back like that is huge because it gives us more confidence to pressure. That's phenomenal." -Oladipo on Turner
"I think as a whole we knew we could take it to another level defensively. In that third quarter we came out with more energy and we (turned) a lot of our attention to the defensive end and things started rolling our way. We have plenty of offensive talent out there, but once we put our heads together on the defensive end we've hard to beat." -Turner
"I've been working on (my 3-point shot) all summer. If it's open, I'm going to shoot it. Coach is telling us to shoot those threes. If you knock them down, it just opens the floor up a lot more." -Sabonis
Stat of the Night
Turner's eight blocks matched his career high (set on Feb. 25 last season against Charlotte) and also matched the total blocks by New York on Wednesday.
- After sitting out the entire preseason with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, T.J. Warren was in the starting lineup on Wednesday. Indiana's leading scorer from last season had five points on 2-of-8 shooting in 22:58 of action.
- The Pacers have won nine of their last 10 games against the Knicks.
- Sabonis said the players presented Bjorkgren with the game ball in the locker room after his first career victory.
The Pacers head to Chicago to take on Zach LaVine and the Bulls on Saturday, Dec. 26 at 8:00 PM ET.