Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator
NEW YORK -- The Indiana Pacers finally look like a team that could make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After meddling in mediocrity through the first 44 games, the Pacers won their fifth game in a row Friday with a win over Brooklyn 106-97.
Indiana (27-22) was led by 24 points apiece from All-Star small forward Paul George and point guard Jeff Teague. The pair teamed up on multiple pick and rolls late in the fourth quarter to put away a game that got closer than expected due to an inspired effort from the Nets bench.
“I think there’s a sense of urgency in this group right now,” said Teague, who hit a layup with 1:21 left that gave the Pacers a 100-95 lead that sealed the game.
The Pacers starters built a 67-48 lead halfway through the third quarter with crisp ball movement and stingy defense, deafening and already quiet Brooklyn crowd, save for a modest Pacers fan section. But the Nets (9-41) got strong production from their second unit and stormed back against the Pacers reserves, ripping off a dramatic 37-16 run to take an 85-83 lead on a Quincy Acy 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. It was a shocking turnaround that injected life into the arena.
“They made a run,” said Teague. “They made some subs and guys came off the bench and gave them a spark.”
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said before the game that he wanted his team to take more three pointers, and his bench responded. The Nets reserves were 10-of-18 on 3-pointers and scored 63 of the team’s 97 points. Although starting center Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 23 points, it was the second unit that made this a game.
“We played with a lot of energy,” said Nets shooting guard Joe Harris, who scored 15 points and shot 3-of-4 from long range off the bench. “Everyone was really aggressive when they came in on both ends.”
Many of the Nets’ 3-pointers were wide open, a combination of effective ball movement by Brooklyn and over-aggressive help defense from the Pacers.
“We do a great job when it comes to screening for one another and getting each other open,” said Nets backup point guard Sean Kilpatrick, who had four assists and five rebounds to go along with 18 points.
The 37-16 run left an ugly mark on an otherwise strong performance from the Pacers starters.
“We knew Brooklyn wasn’t going to stop playing,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. “No road game is easy.”
As well as Brooklyn’s bench played, the Nets starters were overmatched, as 2016 first-round pick Caris LeVert got his first NBA start in place of shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who sat for rest. LeVert struggled offensively, finishing with just four points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field, but had some nice moments on the defensive end.
“I know he struggled offensively, but I feel comfortable with him out there defensively,” said Atkinson, applauding his efforts defending Paul George in crunch time. “Offensively, they’re young guys, sometimes they try to do too much. It’s our job to reign them in a little bit.”
Although Atkinson said the Nets are building a positive culture, he acknowledged the difficulty of sustained losing.
"It's frustrating," said Atkinson. "Those guys are frustrated in there. But I know tomorrow we’ll go in that practice facility, the sun will come up, they'll have smiles on their face, and they’ll work their tails off."
The Nets, who have now lost eight in a row and 19 of 20 games, won’t have it any easier when they host the Raptors (30-21) this Sunday at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn should have guard Isaiah Whitehead available after he hurt his shoulder Friday night; he told the media he felt good after the game.
The Pacers had high expectations coming into this season, and were mentioned along with the Celtics and Raptors as teams that could earn a top four seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. After a slow start, the Pacers have climbed to 6th place in the Eastern Conference, just 4.5 games back of the second-place Celtics. McMillan, in his first year as head coach with Indiana, said the Pacers are beginning to gel after adjusting to three new starters in Teague, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.
“We’re starting to get more comfortable with each other,” he said. “It takes some time for you to get a feel for a player and their tendencies.”
The Pacers return home to host the Pistons Saturday night but may be without Thaddeus Young, who took a fall late in the game.
“I think it’s a sprain,” said McMillan. “We’ll get an MRI tomorrow to look at it a little more clearly.”
Indiana has now won 12 out of their last 16 games.
“We know coming into the All Star Break we want to be playing well,” said Teague, who played seven seasons in Atlanta. “So we’re just going to keep working, keep trying to get wins.”