The NBA’s play-in tournament tipped off Tuesday night with a pair of Eastern Conference matchups. The first game of the night between the No. 9 Indiana Pacers and No. 10 Charlotte Hornets is in the books, and it was the definition of a one-sided affair. The Pacers jumped out to a big lead early on and they never looked back as they cruised to a a 144-117 victory.
Behind a 16-point first quarter from Doug McDermott, the Pacers opened up a double-digit lead in the early going and the Hornets were never really able to make things interesting after that as Indiana won the first 36 minutes of the game by 30 points. With a mountain of a deficit facing them, the Hornets did their best to climb back into the contest in the final frame of the night but by then they had dug themselves too big of a hole early on to put any real pressure on the Pacers.
Domantas Sabonis led the way for Indiana with 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists — just one assist shy of a triple-double — while McDermott and Oshae Brisset both contributed in a major way to help keep Charlotte at arms’ length over the course of the contest. With the win, Indiana now keeps their postseason hopes alive and will face the loser of Tuesday night’s matchup between the No. 7 Boston Celtics and the No. 8 Washington Wizards for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Here’s a look at three key takeaways from Indiana’s big win.
1. Hornets hampered by lack of postseason experience
The Hornets are a very young team. That’s part of what made them so fun, and unpredictable, during the regular season. It’s also the reason that Hornets fans have a real reason to be optimistic about the future of the franchise. However, on Tuesday night that youth worked against them. As a team, the Hornets don’t have much postseason experience. Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller are their only key contributors that have such experience, and that was evident against Indiana.
Charlotte didn’t come out with the urgency or intensity, on either end, that you would expect considering their season was on the line. They got punched in the mouth early on and fell behind 20-7 after the first few minutes. After that, they were never really able to climb back into the contest. The Pacers got virtually whatever they wanted on the offensive end, both at the rim and from beyond the arc, and they prevented Charlotte’s offense from operating efficiently. Unlike the Hornets, the Pacers’ roster is full of players that have postseason experience, and as a group, they knew what they had to do. They came out of the gate focused and ready, and once they secured a sizable lead, they didn’t let up. As a result, they’ll live to fight another day.
2. McDermott, Brissett stepped up for Indy in LeVert’s absence
When it was reported that Caris LeVert wouldn’t be able to play against the Hornets due to the league’s health and safety protocols, it became evident that the Pacers would need someone to step up in his absence. After all, LeVert scores 20 points per game for Indiana. That player that decided to step up was Doug McDermott. McDermott came out firing, and he helped the Pacers bury the Hornets early on. He started the game 4-of-4 from the floor, and he outscored Charlotte himself 11-7 through the first few minutes. He tallied 20 total points in the first half — well over his season average of 13.6 points per performance.
McDermott played only nine minutes in the second half, and not at all in the fourth quarter, as his services weren’t needed. So he finished the game with 21 points, three rebounds and two assists. In addition to McDermott, Oshae Brissett also stepped up in a big way for Indiana. He led the team with 23 points and also added five rebounds and two assists. Both players shot extremely well from the floor, as McDermott finished 7-for-9 and Brissett went 10-of-14. With LeVert expected to be sidelined for the next game(s) as well, the Pacers will need McDermott, Brissett and others to continue to provide production.
3. A tough night for the presumptive Rookie of the Year
Most people expect LaMelo Ball to win Rookie of the Year this season, and the young Hornets guard has an undeniably bright future in the league. However, he had a really rough game against the Pacers, and the truth is that the final numbers won’t even properly reflect how poorly he played, as Ball hit several shots in the fourth quarter when the game was already well out of reach. Over the course of the first 36 minutes though, he was largely inefficient and ineffective. He couldn’t get any of his shots to fall, and he turned the ball over several times. In all, Ball finished with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from long range. He had as many turnovers (4) as assists (4), and he finished as a game low -35. It was an extremely forgettable performance for Ball, but hopefully, one that he can learn and grow from.