Playing without their two leading scorers, the Pacers needed other players to step into larger roles on Thursday night. Myles Turner and Caris LeVert did just that, helping lift Indiana (14-19) to a 118-106 win over the Houston Rockets (10-23) at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
In his pregame press conference, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle announced that Indiana would be without All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis (sore right calf) and starting point guard Malcolm Brogdon (sore right Achilles). That meant increased importance for Turner, who became the Pacers' lone big man, and LeVert, who slid over from shooting guard to point guard.
Both players embraced the opportunity. Turner dominated on the block, scoring 32 points on 14-of-18 shooting while also pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking two shots.
"I knew I was going to get my opportunities down there," Turner said. "I just wanted to exploit those mismatches. My team did a good job of feeding me down there and trusting me to go to work."
LeVert, meanwhile, was superb running the offense, tallying 24 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, and three steals in the victory.
"He's a stone-cold attacker, man," Carlisle said. "He knows how to win and if you put the ball in his hands the way we did tonight, he makes really, really good plays. I congratulated him tonight after the game."
The Pacers jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and maintained some advantage for most of the opening quarter. LeVert acquitted himself well as a playmaker early, dishing out six assists over the first six-plus minutes, including three connections with Turner for easy buckets in the post.
Three straight threes from Torrey Craig, Turner, and Craig again gave the hosts a 25-18 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter. Indiana took a 36-28 lead into the second quarter.
The Blue & Gold led by as many as 11 points in the ensuing frame, but the Rockets rallied, trimming the deficit to 51-47 following rookie guard Jalen Green's fourth 3-pointer of the night with 4:17 remaining in the first half. Two free throws by Christian Wood at 1:57 made it a one-possession game, but LeVert hit two 3-pointers in the final 75 seconds to help push the lead back to 63-58 entering halftime.
After a 17-point first half, Turner continued to carry the offense in the third quarter, scoring nine of Indiana's first 14 points in the frame. But LeVert headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul just three minutes into the second half and the Rockets mounted a charge.
Green and Eric Gordon combined for 15 of Houston's first 20 points and Gordon's bucket with 6:32 left in the quarter gave the visitors a 78-77 lead, the Rockets' first lead since the first quarter. There were seven lead changes over the remainder of the quarter.
Armoni Brooks' 3-pointer with 1:49 put Houston in front 90-89, the start of a 7-0 Rockets run. LeVert's layup with 23 seconds left trimmed the Pacers' deficit to 94-91 entering the fourth quarter.
Pacers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce made the call to move into a zone defense in the final frame and the Blue & Gold executed the plan well, putting together an impressive run to surge back in front.
Indiana moved back in front early in the fourth quarter on LeVert's runner with 9:47 remaining. That was the second basket in what proved to be eight straight Pacers points.
A short while later, LeVert found Jeremy Lamb for a three that pushed the Pacers' lead to 104-97. A pair of emphatic blocks by Turner helped preserve the lead, then the big fellow converted a stepback jumper in the lane at 6:42 to reach the 30-point mark. Turner then converted a layup on the next possession to push the lead to 11 and cap a 15-1 Indiana run.
"I think it caught them by surprise," LeVert said of the switch to zone. "We haven't played zone in a couple weeks so I don't know if they even scouted against it."
The Pacers managed to hold Houston at bay the rest of the way, picking up a much-needed win heading into the holiday break.
Chris Duarte finished with 18 points and four assists in the win for Indiana, while Lamb chipped in 16 points, five boards, and five assists off the bench.
Wood had a team-high 22 points for Houston, going 3-for-6 from 3-point range and 9-for-11 from the free throw line. Green added 20 points on 6-of-9 3-point shooting, while Gordon finished with 15 points and five assists for Houston.
The Pacers will have the next two days off before returning to action on Sunday night in Chicago. They then return to Indianapolis to close out 2021 with a two-game homestand against the Hornets and Bulls.
Inside the Numbers
Turner recorded his eighth double-double of the season. His 32 points were the second-most he has scored in a game in his seven-year career, trailing only his 40-point outburst in an overtime loss in Washington on Oct. 22.
With Turner leading the way, Indiana outscored Houston 62-40 in points in the paint.
LeVert recorded a double-double for the first time this season and set a new seasonhigh with 11 assists.
The Rockets were on fire from beyond the arc for much of the night, making 14 of their first 28 3-point attempts, but went just 1-for-9 the rest of the game.
Lamb reached double figures for the 10th time this season and the fourth time in December.
You Can Quote Me On That
"After a poor effort in Miami, this was really an exceptionally good effort...These guys responded extremely well tonight without two of our top players." -Carlisle
"I thought Myles was sensational. His offensive decision-making was on point. He hit a three one time, he hit a couple midrange shots, he attacked the rim, he made some nice touch passes...He was terrific. He just had a real sort of calm pause to him tonight that I think was a major part of our team getting through that third quarter." -Carlisle on Turner's performance
"I'm very confident in my game and everything I do out there. There was never a doubt about that. I had more opportunities tonight and I just took advantage of my opportunities." -Turner
"I think he did great. To start the game, his energy, he played great defensively, but he was getting people involved. (Seven) assists in the first quarter. I feel like he did great of getting everybody going and then he's a great scorer, so as the game went on, he found his spots, too." -Lamb on LeVert running the point
"For me, it's an easy position to play. I continue to say that. It's just easy for me. I have a good feel for the game at that position. I know kind of what the game needs at certain points. It's just instinctual." -LeVert on playing point guard
"Just trusting my work. I don't know how much I'm going to play, but when I do play, I want to help the team win. Whether I play five minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, I just try to make plays on both ends of the floor and make shots." -Lamb on staying ready
Stat of the Night
The Pacers outrebounded the Rockets 47-28 overall and 15-8 on the offensive glass.
Moment of the Night
- Prior to Thursday, the Pacers were 0-12 on the season when trailing entering the third quarter.
- The Pacers have won their last four games against Houston.
- Pacers assistant coach Mike Weinar was not on the bench on Thursday after entering the NBA's health and safety protocols.
- Green returned for the Rockets after missing nearly a month with a strained hamstring. The second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft last played on Nov. 24 prior to Thursday.
The Pacers head to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Sunday, Dec. 26 at 8:00 PM ET.