Sports

Pacers keep foot on gas, rout Hornets to move on

Down a key player, the Indiana Pacers wanted to make sure they still came out with the right intensity for Tuesday night’s play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets in Indianapolis.

Not only did the Pacers accomplish that goal, they maintained that intensity for 48 minutes as they drubbed the Hornets 144-117 to advance to the next stage of the play-in tournament.

Indiana will take on the Washington Wizards on Thursday night for the right to be the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“We came out great. Everybody was connected,” Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis said. “I feel like we’re clicking more and more every game. The ball is moving, and that’s the most important part.”

Sabonis, who finished with 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists, struggled from the field in the first quarter, but it seemed like he was the only Pacer who did as Indiana jumped out to an early 10-point lead in the first four minutes of the game and never looked back.

Doug McDermott hit four 3-pointers and had 16 of his 21 points in the first quarter as the Pacers built up their lead.

Malcolm Brogdon, who was playing in his first game since April 29 because of a hamstring injury, got things going with a 3-pointer on Indiana’s first possession on his way to finishing with 16 points and eight assists. He was able to rest his hamstring at times, playing only 21 minutes.

“I was always conscious of my hamstring,” Brogdon said. “When you’re dealing with hamstring issues, it can be dangerous, so there is a bit of hesitation when you’re out there of things you’re not gonna do. Like tonight, I wasn’t gonna go for any rebounds in the crowd. I’m not jumping as high as I can. Consciously and unconsciously, you’re thinking of stuff to avoid. But overall, I felt good. I felt good. I’m glad we got the win.”

The Pacers’ offense never slowed down. Indiana was getting wide-open looks and finished with more uncontested 3-pointers (13) than Charlotte had 3-pointers total (12). According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Indiana almost had as many uncontested field goals (36) as Charlotte had total field goals (43).

And it wasn’t just falling from deep, either. Indiana also had 64 points inside the restricted area, the most it had in a contest all season.

Even though the Pacers continued to light up the scoreboard, Brogdon and Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren credited the team’s defense for carrying them in the first half.

“I liked the energy we had, especially on the defensive end,” Bjorkgren said. “In the first half of that game, I thought our team defense was very well connected. I thought we were very physical. I thought we were very good on the glass, especially in that first half. But just overall, the way that the guys competed tonight and the movement and the way they shared it on the offensive end, it was good to be a part of.”

The Pacers did it all despite learning earlier on Tuesday that shooting guard Caris LeVert was going to miss time after being entered into the NBA’s health and safety protocols.

Indiana finished with 35 assists and had eight players in double figures.

The Pacers’ leading scorer was Oshae Brissett, who finished with 23 points. Brissett, who wasn’t on an NBA team in March and earned his way into a multiyear deal with the Pacers, averaged 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds over the final 16 games of the regular season, all starts.

Brissett and his teammates liked the way Indiana started. But they all know it has to continue if the Pacers want to earn a playoff berth.

“We just have to come with the same intensity,” Brissett said. “I feel like we did a great job of setting the tone early and hitting them first and not really letting up. We did that throughout the whole game; but really, that first five to 10 minutes, we went at them and we didn’t hold back. We have to do the same thing Thursday against whoever we play.”

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