Myles Turner: 30 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals. And the Indiana Pacers start the 2016-2017 regular season with a resounding 130-121 OT victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Pacers were ahead for most of the game until the Mavs went on a big run to start the 4th quarter to take the lead. Still, the Pacers should have iced this game regulation, but Jeff Teague missed one of two free throws down the stretch to allow Harrison Barnes to hit a wide open three to send the game into overtime.
In overtime, it was Turner who hit the big go-ahead three on a pass from Paul George to give the Pacers the lead for good. And then PG13 (25, 8 and 6) added a three of his own off a screen from Turner to effectively ice the game.
All five Pacer starters finished in double digits, with new starting PG Jeff Teague adding 20, new starting PF Thaddeus Yong with 11, 5 and 4, and veteran Monta Ellis with 19 on his 31st birthday.
Off the bench, Rodney Stuckey added 8 and Al Jefferson had 7, as new coach Nate McMillan played 11 players all up. Glenn Robinson III got the nod over CJ Miles in the beginning due to the latter not being 100% yet, but after Robinson struggled, Miles stepped up to hit consecutive threes and finish with 8 points. Aaron Brooks, the newly acquired backup PG, did not play due to injury.
And so the new-look Indiana Pacers escape game one of the regular season with a hard-fought victory at home and will next play their first road game, against Brooklyn, on Saturday.
In all honesty, the team still has a long ways to go, especially on the defensive end, but so far they look quite promising thanks to the breakout performance from Turner. The 20-year-old stud by all accounts put in serious work during the offseason to take his game to the next level, and it’s already paying dividends. Apart from the gaudy stat line, Turner was out there scrapping for loose balls, picking up air balls for finishes, setting hard picks, and changing a whole lot of shots in mid-air. As a young player, he’s going to struggle with consistency throughout the season and could hit a wall considering he only played 60 games (starting 30) last season, but it’s hard not to get excited when he puts up this kind of effort in the very first game.
Since I didn’t get a chance to do a proper season preview before it started, I might as well go into a bit more detail now about the vibe surrounding the Pacers this season.
The crystal-ball gazers have mostly put the Pacers in the 4-8 range in the Eastern Conference, with a couple here and there suggesting that they could be a serious challenger to the Cavs and some others predicting that the team could slump. Most have pointed out that the new additions will indeed allow the Pacers to play with more pace, but also that the team’s previously stellar defense could take a major hit and negate the improvements on offense.
No one can really tell how things are going to work out with a new coach, two new starters (Teague and Thad Young), two new key additions to the bench (Jefferson and Brooks, when he’s healthy), and a second-year player anchoring the defense (Turner).
However, there is cause for plenty of optimism. Paul George, only one of two players left from the Eastern Conference Finals teams a few years back, says this is the most excited he has been since his rookie year. With a full year after returning from a broken leg and a fruitful Olympics experience under his belt, PG is ready to be the undisputed leader of the team and has even issued a challenge to Lebron by saying: “I’m ready.”
Jeff Teague struggled tonight despite the impressive stat line (20 points, 8 assists, 3 steals) — his defense wasn’t great, he shot 5-15 from the field, and he missed key free throws — but the positive thing is that he still put up numbers notwithstanding an off night. His aggression (got to the line 13 times) is what separates him from George Hill, who too often disappeared from the offense much to the chagrin of Pacers fans. Besides, Teague seems really happy to be back home, calling Indianapolis “the best city in the world” during Media Day. We can only hope that the added comfort of coming back home will elevate his game to new heights.
Monta Ellis had a disappointing season by his own standards, but he’s apparently put in a lot of time working on his game and his conditioning in the offseason and claims this is the healthiest he has felt since his Golden State days. Don’t forget, last season he was coming off knee surgery and was also dealing with some personal problems, so this could potentially be a bounce-back year for him.
I’ve already been through this before, but I really liked the pick-ups of Thad Young and Al Jefferson, two guys who give the Pacers a much-needed post presence and big men who can actually finish at the rim. Watching 11 minutes of Lavoy Allen on the floor tonight only confirms those sentiments. Young can run doesn’t need the ball to score, and Jefferson is a reliable bail-out option at the end of the shot clock, two types of players the Pacers have sorely needed.
As for the young guys, it’s always easy to get excited by their progress in Summer League and the preseason, though how much they can actually help remains to be season. Case in point: Joe Young and GRIII both looked amazing in the offseason and were brimming with confidence, while second-round pick and 4-year collegiate player Georges Niang was said to be a guy who could contribute right away. Tonight? Young played 3 minutes even though Brooks was out and had nothing but a foul; Robinson played 10 minutes and missed all three shots from the floor and recorded a team-worst minus-15 on the plus-minus chart. Niang wasn’t even on the active roster.
The only other guy to talk about is late signee Kevin Seraphin. He’s basically a big-bodied injury reserve for Al Jefferson. I don’t expect him to see the floor much this season.
So there you have it. The new Indiana Pacers are full of intrigue and potential. They were 45-37 and finished 7th in the East last season, and I think they can do better this time around. Are they a 50-win, top-4 team in the East? I think so, but I guess time will tell.
*Note: The signing of former Slam Dunk champ Jeremy Evans didn’t last long as he was cut before the start of the season. He had been recovering from shoulder surgery and the team decided they could better use his spot on someone else ready to contribute.