Indiana Pacers (0-1) 110-119 Detroit Pistons (1-0)
Venue: Bankers Life Fieldhouse
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Well that was an unexpected start to the 2019-20 NBA season for the Indiana Pacers (0-1), who fell to an opening night defeat to Central Division rivals the Detroit Pistons (1-0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
A slow start to the first quarter and a tiresome end in the final quarter compounded the Blue and Gold to a first opening home loss since 2015. Whilst this new-looking Pacers side will no doubt need a dozen games before starting to gel together, question marks will be raised over some of the cracks exposed by a Blake Griffin-less Pistons team many tip to only just make the end of season play-offs.
Victor Oladipo, who looked slick in his blue suit, addressed fans at Bankers Life before tip-off by stating that this was going to a ‘special’ season. That may still come to fruition, but on these very early indications, maybe we all need to just wind down the expectation levels a little bit.
It wasn’t going to be the perfect performance – those are very rare for NBA teams on opening night. Many say it isn’t about how you start but how you finish the regular season. The second half of the campaign should be a phase where best case scenario Oladipo is back playing all-star level basketball, with the rest of the roster all injury-free and knowing one another like peas in a pod. It is imperative however, that at the start of the season you don’t find yourself playing catchup in the play-off hunt going into the new year.
This opening defeat may not be the start fans and the team was expecting, but there were plenty of positive signs to take from Wednesday night.
Two of which are Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who made their presence known on the floor. Turner ended the game with 25 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Sabonis also impressed with his first double-double for the season (29 points, 13 rebounds). One of the big questions ahead of this game was whether or not these two could play alongside each other. In some cases it worked wonders, at other times it had it’s flaws.
Defensively they looked okay. The absence of Griffin made Sabonis’ night slightly easier marking Markieff Morris – who only managed eight points. However both came up stuck against the like of Andre Drummond and against better, smaller, more agile opposition they will need to improve drastically. The lack of 3 attempts, especially from Sabonis, is also something that would need to work on. Turner sunk four 3 attempts, but he needs to be making five or six at least if Indiana want to average 30 attempts to score 3s every game.
Whilst it was the old guard who shone brightest, it was a mixed night for the new starters in the Pacers team. Malcolm Brogdon’s 22 points on debut is not bad reading, as he showed early signs of his formidable accuracy at the free throw line, range of passing and leadership qualities on the floor.
Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren however were more like bystanders, with both only scoring 10 points each and constantly nursing what looked like minor hip injuries. Warren was forced off with just under four minutes to play after a heavy fall, but x-rays have come back negative and he shouldn’t miss any game time.
Despite their slow start, Indiana ramped up the pressure in the second and third quarters. They obtained the lead for the first time just before the half, and at one point found themselves ahead by nine with the score 73-64. Snippets of a team capable of a deep run in the play-offs were shown, but when Andre Drummond is against you, you know you’re not going to get it your own way.
The Centre ended the night one shy of his career-best score with 32 points and 23 rebounds for the Pistons, and he wasn’t the only man in Detroit colours who put in a freakishly good performance.
Luke Kennard will haunt the dreams of Indiana fans over the next few nights. His career-best 30 points from the bench was pivotal in getting the Pistons over the line. His 16 in the fourth quarter equalled what the Pacers bench tallied up in total – and that was between six men. Derrick Rose embraced the skillset which made him MVP in 2011, as he posted 18 points and nine assists again from the Detroit bench. Overall the benches were on totally different ends of the spectrum with Pistons outscoring their Eastern Conference rivals 57-16.
Communication in defence will be the major hole to fill – with Detroit making the most of easy 3 point attempts. With Indiana’s top defensive players focused on stopping Drummond getting in and around the frame, Kennard was able to gulp up every mid-range shot he could get his hands on. More structure on the defensive end will again come with each game played – but this should be an early wake up call for Nate McMillan’s team going into this winnable stretch of fixtures.
The Pacers will now go on to play three away matches – starting with a trip to 2016 NBA Champions Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday.