PACERS

Four observations: Pacers crush Magic 123-102 for fifth straight win

Dustin Dopirak
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Pacers cruised to their fifth straight win, routing the Orlando Magic 123-102 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Monday night.

The Pacers have now won nine of their last 11 games to improve to 10-6 overall, and they now sit in the top four of the Eastern Conference. The Magic fell to 5-13.

Four observations from the game follow.

Nov 21, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin (00) shoots the ball in the first quarter against the Orlando Magic at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Tyrese Haliburton posted another double-double

Tyrese Haliburton was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday and followed that up with yet another exceptional performance finishing with 18 points on 7 of 12 shooting but, more importantly, 14 assists. The Pacers knew they'd be dealing with a lot of size, but they leaned into attacking the rim off the dribble and Haliburton spearheaded that move, pushing the pace and creating plays. He now has double figure assists in 11 of the Pacers' 16 games this season.

Haliburton was inspired in particular on Monday night because his mom's birthday is on Tuesday, and because last year when he was still with the Sacramento Kings he scored zero points on 0 of 5 shooting (though he did have nine assists) in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on her birthday.

"Everything," Haliburton said when asked what it meant. "Everything, because last year, I had a donut, zero points. I wore the same shoes tonight that I did last year, because I wanted to do better this time. ... It was exciting to do that for my mom, because she comes to a lot of games."

T.J. McConnell also had a double-double

With Andrew Nembhard out with a bruised left knee, the Pacers had to shuffle the lineup, but also needed more production from reserve point guard T.J. McConnell. McConnell has been a steady part of the rotation because of his experience, on-ball defense and ball-handling but he hasn't been asked to score much and has barely shot from outside at all.

On Monday night, however, he provided not only ball distribution but buckets. McConnell was 0 of 4 from 3 this season coming into the game and had only scored in double figures once, averaging almost as many assists (3.6 per game) as points (3.7). On Monday night, however, he hit his first five field goals including three 3-pointers and kept making shots after that. He finished with a season-high 19 points on 7 of 8 shooting and dished out a season-high 10 assists.

It was the first time since April 10 that he made a 3-pointer. He also made three in that game.

"I work on it so much," McConnell said. "I pass up quite a few of them because I think I can get a better shot, but the way they were playing me, I just let it fly. I have to keep letting it fly."

The Pacers got to the rim

The Pacers started the game struggling from outside almost as bad as they did Friday night against the Rockets, but they never fell behind big Monday night because attacked the rim, particularly off the bounce.

Indiana made just one of its first 14 3-pointers, and 4 of 18 in the first half, but scored 34 points in the paint before the break. Big men Myles Turner, Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson were responsible for six of the 17 buckets in the lane, but more came from guards and wings attacking off the dribble, and they had clearly learned how to deal with Magic bigs Mo Bamba, Bol Bol and others and how to get around their attempts to block shots. Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin were especially aggressive off the dribble, in particular when the Magic switched on pick-and-rolls, but so were wings Oshae Brissett and Buddy Hield.

Haliburton hit one of his five 3s but his other six buckets came on drives at the rim and he created room for his 14 assists off the bounce. Four of Mathurin's six buckets were two-pointers and he was 8 of 10 at the line because he was driving the ball. Hield had a miserable night from outside, hitting just 1 of 10 3-point attempts, but he had two layups that also helped the Pacers get started.

"They were coming into the game switching because they switched all game last game," Haliburton said. "Just attacking downhill, getting downhill with the bigs on me. Kicking out and spraying out from there and finishing from myself."

The Pacers finished with 58 points in the paint and were 30 of 40 from 2-point range while finishing 13 of 46 from 3.

The Pacers bettered the Magic big men

Rick Carlisle's biggest concern with the Magic was their size, as they start three players 6-10 or taller and have more than that coming off the bench. Orlando caused a lot of trouble for the Pacers with that size Saturday night, but Monday, Indiana was the more physical team on both ends.

Along with their buckets at the rim, the Pacers also won the rebound battle 48-38 and kept Magic 7-footers Mo Bamba and Bol Bol comparatively quiet. Bamba finished with 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting and Bol had nine points on 4 of 11. The Pacers made finishing around the rim difficult as they blocked five shots with Myles Turner accounting for three of them.

Coach Rick Carlisle said the move to put 6-5 wing Aaron Nesmith in the starting lineup for injured guard Andrew Nembhard added muscle and physicality and made the matchup more even.

"It was better," Carlisle said. "We were more physical tonight from the beginning of the game. I think (Aaron) Nesmith starting contributed to that. ... It just felt a little different out there with him. His size and his combativeness."