After an offseason full of changes and chatter, the Indiana Pacers kicked off the first regular season of the team’s new era on Wednesday night in Toronto, taking on a Raptors squad that also made some serious moves this summer.
The Pacers had the lesser debut of the pair, however, and dropped their season opener, 106-99, during a game in which they ceded a 16-point lead to Toronto. As the start of the season, a loss was obviously disappointing, but as the start of Indiana’s longer-term transformation, the game showed some promising takeaways. It sure looked like the beginning of something new as the team showed it still has a lot of kinks to work out, especially on the defensive end, but overall, the team’s play showed off some potential positives going forward.
Perhaps most importantly for the Pacers, Paul George, the star in the middle of the team’s switch, looked pretty good at his new stretch 4 position. While his jumper wasn’t falling –– he missed some easy attempts early and never got in a rhythm –– he posted a near-triple-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. It was George’s first season-opener since 2013 after missing last year’s with his broken leg, and he admitted after the game that his excitement probably contributed to his missed looks.
In virtually every other aspect of the game, George was solid: he attacked fearlessly and shot 10 free throws, rebounded better as the game went on, snagged three steals and showed off a highly effective drive-and-kick game, albeit with one-too-many jump passes.
Results were similarly mixed for the rest of the squad, but generally yielded more positive takeaways than not.
Indiana’s new-and-improved backcourt looked great even though Monta Ellis bricked his way through the opener as well. Despite that, he, George Hill and Rodney Stuckey effectively catalyzed the Pacers’ offense and were responsible for 13 of the team’s 20 fast-break points during game one. While Ellis and Stuckey accounted for most of the ball-handling and penetration, Hill was able to remain assertive even off the ball and wound up leading the team in scoring with 19 points on 6-10 shooting. He hit five threes as well, and most of them came off passes from Ellis, who showed an encouraging willingness to dish once he got into the paint. He should be a fun setup man in this offense.
C.J. Miles also played a strong game on offense, hitting four three-pointers and negotiating some effective rim attacks off hard closeouts. Unfortunately, Chase Budinger, whom Indiana is counting on to spell George and Miles off the bench, was practically nonexistent during his 0-4, 15-minute showing.
Turning an eye towards the frontcourt reveals an uglier picture aside from starting center Ian Mahinmi. The Frenchman played an active 25 minutes, notching 10 points, eight boards and a pair each of steals and blocks, but he might have been a little too active and showed he still has his classic propensity for fouling everything. When he was able to stay on the court, Mahinmi was easily Indiana’s best big.
That foul trouble could be a problem for Indiana going forward, especially if the team is going to be without rookie shot-blocking center Myles Turner for long. Backup big men Jordan Hill and Lavoy Allen were ineffective, with Hill in particular getting rocked on the boards and in the post by the likes of Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo. It was a discouraging performance that showed how important Turner will be to this team’s plans.
Hill’s performance was easily the worst on opening night, though, which is good for a team undergoing so many changes. The Pacers’ defense, which is a work in progress that allegedly received very little focus during training camp, was handsy for better and worse, with 14 steals but 30 personal fouls. Still, you could see the beginnings of the quick, swarming defense that Vogel hopes to implement, and their rotations should only smooth out with time.
Overall, it was a very solid start for Indiana to go and almost get a win during another team’s home opener. The Pacers could’ve easily won the game, and they showed as many qualities to build on as they did to work on. One thing is for sure, though, this team is going to score some points and be fun to watch –– basically unrecognizable compared to the oft-hard-to-watch smashmouth style of recent Indiana teams.
**All statistics courtesy of NBA Stats.**