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Buddy Hield surpasses Reggie Miller's record for 3s in a season, helps Pacers overcome horrendous start to beat Bulls
"He’s obsessed with the art of shooting," coach Rick Carlisle said of Hield's special night, six 3s and 27 points in a comeback win over the Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers entered Wednesday’s game having lost 16 of the past last 18 games, struggling on the defensive end and like the rest of the league, they were eager for the All-Star break.
The break, however, no longer represents the midway point of the season — it arrives 73% of the way into the season — but it does give them a week between games and five days to get away from basketball and relax.
This season has been a lot — from thoughts of a rebuild to a climb up to the sixth seed, then Tyrese Haliburton getting hurt and his time away providing a reality check for them. This is still a rebuild and they are a few seasons away, but that shouldn’t take away from what they’ve accomplished.
The last several weeks, though, have been trying on everyone. Losses, new roles, several players not getting consistent minutes, three players waived and a couple new guys added to the mix. From their 23-18 magical start to a losing streak that stretched to five entering the final game before the break.
Not getting the break until after Game 60 is tough, but even more so for the Pacers with a bunch of guys who are 21, 22 and 23 years old.
“If you’ve got a younger team, you’ve got to do the things to enhance the situation headed toward the break with the young guys in mind,” head coach Rick Carlisle said before the game. “The fact that we added a couple guys this week adds a little energy to the situation, which is good.”
Yet in the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Wednesday, the Pacers played like their minds were already on the beach with a Piña colada in hand. (Sounds good, doesn’t it?)
The Bulls carved them up early and often and led 39-15 after 1. To top it off, they nailed a buzzer-beating 3.
It was a troubling Pacers start, which sounds familiar because it’s been among their biggest issues. But this was their worst of the season, punctuated by a 24-point deficit after just 12 minutes.
It was alarming because they had spent all of Tuesday’s practice focused on defense, blocking out and rebounding.
The Pacers, meanwhile, had barely reached 15 points by the end of the quarter, had more turnovers (7) than field goals (5), were out-rebounded by eight, shot 27.8% and managed just four points in the paint. To compound the issue, they gave up four 3-pointers to a team that averages the fewest per game (10).
“Our team has continued to play in all these situations all year long,” Carlisle said following their 117-113 win. “We were dangerously close in the first quarter to getting booed by the greatest fans in the NBA. And we responded.
“The majority of it is presence and hard play, and we figured out a few things out offensively. It’s about the defensive end.”
The Pacers woke up for the final three quarters as if they finally got the smelling salts they needed. They chipped away at the Bulls’ lead with a 24-9 start to the second quarter, which trimmed the deficit from 24 to just nine in the first seven and a half minutes.
And helping lead the charge was Chris Duarte, who went from DNP-CD (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision) to playing the entire second frame and chipping in 11 points.
The deficit was 16 at half, and then things intensified.
After starting T.J. McConnell over Andrew Nembhard — a decision Carlisle made based on McConnell’s strong game against them previously — Nembhard rejoined the starting group for the second half. The Pacers made 13 of their first 14 shots in the third and tallied 40 points in 12 minutes. It was among their best quarters of the season.
Nobody shined brighter than sharpshooter Buddy Hield. After going scoreless in the first half, missing both shots, he did what great shooters do and kept shooting.
Hield made five 3-pointers in the quarter, scored 19 of his team-high 27 points and got fans up out of their seasons as the shots kept going down. And with the crowd behind them, the Pacers would carry the momentum in the fourth quarter only down by four, 86-82.
“I think it was my first banked in 3 too,” Hield said with a smile. “My shot felt weird the past two or three games. Sometimes all you need is one to give you a rhythm.”
For the Pacers, it wasn’t just that their offense was clicking. They were getting stops and had solved some defensive issues.
“We started playing harder,” said Aaron Nesmith, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds. “We started switching with the 5 man so it made it harder for them to play in their pick-and-roll game, which was picking us apart in the first quarter. So once we did that and started boxing out and rebounding, everything fell into place.”
This game was on brand for both teams. The Pacers started poorly and fell behind by double digits in a hurry, and the Bulls later surrendered a big lead. It was the Bulls' fifth time blowing a lead of 16 points or more, including twice to the Pacers.
You only have to go back to Jan. 24, just three weeks, when they overcame a 21-point hole to beat the division foe.
With 2:46 remaining, Hield drained his sixth 3-pointer and this meant more than your regular 3-pointer. Not only did it even the game at 106, but it was his 230th of the season.
In my best Tom Carnegie voice, that’s a new … franchise … record.
With 22 games left, Hield surpassed Reggie Miller’s franchise NBA record for 3s in a single season of 229. That was set during the 1996-97 season.
Paul George’s 210 3s during the 2015-16 season ranks third.
“It’s a blessing,” Hield said after the win and receiving the game ball from Carlisle.
“It’s the new NBA, man. We shoot 3s and shoot 3s at a high level. One thing I will say is that I’m not just getting up 3s, I’m shooting at a high clip. Passing a legend like Reggie in Indiana shows a testament to my hard work, my dedication to the game and my teammates finding me in the right open spots.”
And the best part was how the record-setting triple was created from movement, from penetrating and kicking out, then getting to the left arc to let it fly.
Hield is a diehard Kobe guy, but he’s long admired the outside shooting of the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
He wasn’t just standing in the corner, he moved like they so often move.
Hield leads all NBA players in made 3s. Portland's Anfernee Simons is second (194) and Thompson (194) is third.
“Buddy is gonna go down as a historically great 3-point shooter in this league,” Carlisle said.
“I just love watching the officials trying to get the ball out of his hands during timeouts when he goes to grab it. He’s obsessed with the art of shooting. When you’re obsessed with something and you work at it and you have the ability to go along with it, you can change the game. There’s a reason he’s leading the league in 3-point makes.
“There’s really two reasons: The work he puts in and Tyrese Haliburton. This doesn’t happen without Tyrese putting the ball on a platter for him too. It’s a very significant accomplishment.”
Earlier this season, Hield scored the quickest 3-pointer to start a game. He’s headed to Salt Lake City for his third time participant in the 3-point contest, this time with Haliburton as his competition as well. And for how good his shooting is and has been, his best attribute is availability.
He and rookie Bennedict Mathurin are the only two Pacers to play in all 60 games to start the season.
(I’m in Salt Lake City so there will be a lot more on Hield over the next five days.)
The Pacers could’ve given up, mentally been on the beach with their toes in the water and thrown in the (beach) towel. But this young bunch regrouped and enter the much-needed break on a positive note.
“I was proud of them,” Carlisle reiterated. “It’s been a very tough three and a half weeks. This break comes at a much-needed time.”
Added Hield: “We’ve been struggling the last 20 games. Hopefully we go into this break with a fresh start and come [back] and everybody’s locked in and on the same page to get after it for this last push.”
Daniel Theis was not available due to a right thumb sprain.
Fun, young lineup late in the first of Nembhard, Duarte, Mathurin, Nwora, Jackson. It wasn’t together long, but I’m here to see more of it.
Isaiah Jackson ruled out for the second half with a non-Covid illness. He played six minutes in the first half as the backup center, but then got dehydrated.
Carlisle on Jalen Smith’s seven minutes, all in the fourth quarter: “I thought his minutes were probably the difference in the game. … He was ready. That’s the kind of player that we’re looking to build with, a guy that’s a straight professional and always ready to go.”