The Pacers have been looking for a spark as of late, dropping a number of close contests while losing six of their past seven contests.
They got a huge jolt of adrenaline on Saturday night with the long-awaited addition of Caris LeVert to the Pacers lineup. The 26-year-old swingman acquired from Brooklyn in the Victor Oladipo trade on Jan. 16 made his first appearance in an Indiana uniform against the Suns and his teammates seemed to adopt his attacking mindset.
The Pacers (17-20) exploded for 35 points in the third quarter to open up a 20-point lead, then held on down the stretch for a 122-111 win. It was an impressive victory over the red-hot Suns (25-12), who had won five straight and 17 of their last 20 entering Saturday's contest.
Six players scored in double figures for the Blue & Gold in the win. All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis registered his fifth triple-double of the season with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists (he also had four steals).
Malcolm Brogdon scored a team-high 25 points, going 4-for-6 from 3-point range, to go along with five boards and four assists. Doug McDermott added 22 points off the bench on 9-of-13 shooting.
LeVert finished with 13 points in 27 minutes on 5-of-14 shooting while also tallying seven rebounds and two assists. It was an emotional night for the 6-6 guard, who missed two months of basketball after a post-trade physical revealed renal cell carcinoma in his left kidney. He underwent surgery on Jan. 26 to remove the mass (no further treatment is necessary) and then patiently waited for his body to heal before he could make his Pacers debut.
"The main thing for me was to try to contribute to a win," LeVert said after the game. "That's what I'm all about. Today was maybe my second time going five-on-five since everything happened, so a little bit of heavy legs and lack of conditioning, but that will come back. I'm just glad we got the win.
"A month and a half ago, two months ago, I don't think I even knew if I was going to be out here, especially this soon. It's definitely a level of gratefulness and (I'm) just happy to be on the court."
The two teams traded blows in a back-and-forth first quarter that featured four ties and eight lead changes. Brogdon and Sabonis scored seven points apiece in the frame, but Phoenix closed the quarter with a 6-2 run to take a 33-29 lead after one.
Indiana's second unit mounted a charge at the start of the second quarter, however. The Pacers scored on their first six possessions, reeling off a 12-0 run over a 2:36 span.
LeVert — who started the game but went scoreless in his initial six minute stint — returned to the game shortly thereafter and collected his first points as a Pacer when he drew a foul in transition and hit both free throws with 8:12 remaining in the first half. He scored again on a putback a minute later, then scored buckets on back-to-back possessions shortly thereafter.
"Just having him out there, it was awesome to see," McDermott said. "We're all so happy for him."
The Suns briefly tied the game at 48 with 6:06 remaining in the first half, but Sabonis answered with a three of his own on the other end to put the Pacers back in front. The Blue & Gold remained in front for the rest of the half, stretching the margin as high as eight and taking a 62-57 lead into the break.
The Pacers led 73-70 midway through the third quarter before putting together another impressive run. Myles Turner got the party started with a bucket off a nice dish from Sabonis. Back-to-back steals then led to a Sabonis dunk and Brogdon 3-pointer. Justin Holiday added a three of his own a minute later before Turner swatted a shot on one end and then cleaned up a Holiday miss on the other end to cap a 12-0 Pacers run.
Cameron Payne ended Phoenix's drought with a 3-pointer, but Indiana then scored eight straight to open up a 94-73 lead.
Turner was dominant on both ends in the frame, scoring 11 points and blocking three shots to help Indiana take a 97-77 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Pacers were a little sloppy in the final frame, committing seven turnovers in the first eight minutes. The Suns eventually trimmed the deficit to nine on Mikal Bridges' 3-pointer with 3:58 remaining. But back-to-back baskets from McDermott and Brogdon erased any threat of a comeback and the Pacers held on for arguably their most impressive win of the season.
"Our defensive energy all night was the level I expect us to play every night," Turner said. "We have plenty of talent and we're going to score offensively, but if we set the tone with our defense every night, we're going to be a tough team to beat."
Turner scored 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked four shots in the win. Justin Holiday added 10 points for Indiana.
Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker had 20 points on 9-of-20 shooting, four rebounds, and seven assists in the loss. Dario Saric added 17 points and five rebounds off the bench for Phoenix.
The Pacers close out a three-game road trip on Monday night in Denver before returning to Indianapolis to host LeVert's former team, the Nets, on Wednesday.
Inside the Numbers
Sabonis' triple-double tied the NBA franchise record for triple-doubles in a season. He matched Lance Stephenson, who led the league with five triple-doubles during the 2013-14 season.
The Pacers shot 52.9 percent from the field in the victory and improved to 10-1 on the year when they make at least half their shots.
Indiana scored 60 points in the paint in the win.
Three players topped 20 points in the same game for the 10th time this season. It was the 22nd 20-point game for Brogdon, the 21st for Sabonis, and the seventh for McDermott.
Turner added four blocks to his league-leading total and has now blocked at least one shot in 53 consecutive games, one game shy of Jermaine O'Neal's franchise record for longest streak of games with a block.
Saturday's game was the first time the Pacers did not trail in the fourth quarter of a game since their 111-95 win in Detroit on Feb. 11. They had trailed in the fourth quarter each of their past 10 contests, going 3-7 over that span.
You Can Quote Me On That
"It was great to see him back out there. The players, they really enjoyed him being there and the things that he can do. You can see that he's dynamic with the basketball. That was just the beginning...He hasn't played in a long time coming off of surgery. He did a lot of nice things there. I thought his conditioning level was pretty good." -Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren on LeVert's Pacers debut
"He's going to bring a big dynamic to our offense. He's another option out there...The first quarter he was trying to get guys going, but we told him, 'No, man. We need you to go out there and score, be yourself.' He opens up the floor for everybody when he's out there being aggressive." -Turner on LeVert
"They were in my ear the whole game, even leading up to the game. I can't thank those guys enough. It's going to be a special rest of the season for sure once everybody starts clicking." -LeVert on the encouragement he received from his teammates
"I just thought he was aggressive around the rim. He hit a big three there as well, but he had four blocks as well. When he does that and when he's talking on defense, he's so much more involved on the offensive end." -Bjorkgren on Turner's two-way contributions
"Sometimes guys are hanging their heads on offense because shots aren't falling. I think the main thing you can do to get your offense going is bring a ton of energy on the defensive end. We were able to do that. When you get stops and get rebounds, everyone's going to be able to get out in transition and get to their spots. I think that was our big emphasis tonight and it definitely paid off." -McDermott on the key to building a big lead
Stat of the Night
LeVert played in an NBA for the first time since Jan. 12 and just 46 days after undergoing kidney surgery.
- Indiana has now won five straight games in Phoenix. The Pacers haven't lost in Arizona since Jan. 22, 2014.
- Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb was a late scratch after experiencing soreness in his left knee during warmups.
- Saturday's game was a makeup of the game originally scheduled for Jan. 16 that was postponed because the Suns did not have enough available players due to the NBA's health and safety protocols.
The Pacers close out a three-game road trip in Denver against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Monday, March 15 at 9:00 PM ET.