The Eastern Conference play-in tournament has given the Indiana Pacers something to aim for during the final month of the season.
They can continue their postseason push with another road victory over the downtrodden and depleted Detroit Pistons on Monday night.
Indiana is within striking distance of the ninth and 10th spots in the conference. The Pacers handed the Pistons their 11th consecutive loss on Saturday, 121-115.
The Pacers played without All-Star and leading scorer Tyrese Haliburton due to a bruised left knee. Center Myles Turner (back), Bennedict Mathurin (ankle) and T.J. McConnell (back) also missed the game.
In their absence, Jalen Smith erupted for 20 points and nine rebounds. The Pacers also got big games from Isaiah Jackson, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds (six offensive), and Andrew Nembhard, who contributed 19 points and eight assists.
The game was special for Jackson, who grew up in Detroit and had 60 family members and friends in the crowd. He helped Indiana outrebound Detroit 58-42.
“I think I just played way more aggressive (Saturday),” Jackson told the Indianapolis Star. “Especially on the offensive boards. … It was a whole team effort. We were all going after offensive boards. I just did what I had to do, especially with those big guys. They were doing it to me, so I had to do it to them, hit them first.”
Nembhard had his biggest statistical output since he racked up 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds against Oklahoma City on Jan. 18.
“He just had a really nice pulse on the game (Saturday),” coach Rick Carlisle said. “His shooting looks really good. He plays the game the right way.”
The game was tied at 90 apiece entering the final quarter. An 11-2 run midway through the fourth allowed the Pacers to pull away.
They’ll likely have to rely on the same group to win the rematch. Carlisle indicated he doesn’t expect any of the players who missed Saturday’s game to return on Monday.
“They’re banged up enough to where we’re going to make sure they’re OK and then see what’s what when the Milwaukee game (on Thursday) gets here,” Carlisle said. “I want to see our young guys go out and do this again. I want to see them go out and play the same kind of game, knowing that Detroit is going to make adjustments. It’s going to be like a mini-playoff series.”
Detroit also is playing short-handed. Cade Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo and Isaiah Stewart are out for the season. Leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic (Achilles) and Alec Burks (foot) also sat out on Saturday.
Coach Dwane Casey was still upset with how soft his remaining players performed in the first half.
“Everybody did a much better job in the second half,” Casey said. “Somehow, some way, we’ve got to get our motors going quicker in the first half.”
Casey said that keeping Jackson off the boards will be a big key to breaking the losing streak.
“He played with force,” Casey said. “I don’t care how big you are, how tall you are, how many bigs you have on the floor, you have to play with force. You’ve got to hit first. If you look at the video with him, he hits first. … He doesn’t take possessions off.”
–Field Level Media