Domantas Sabonis celebrated by Pacers fans, gets closure both sides deserved
'It’s really cool to be back,' Sabonis said after a 107-104 Pacers win Friday night. It was his first game in Indy since being trade in Feb. 2022.
Both teams were lined up for the national anthem, but Pacers game operations had something to get to first.
At 7:03 p.m., before the Pacers hosted the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, everyone inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse looked up to watch a special a 73-second video recognizing former Pacers center Domantas Sabonis.
Sabonis played 319 games for the Pacers from 2017-22, averaging 16.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He emerged from reserve off the bench to a starting center and two-time All-Star in Indy over his four and half seasons.
One year ago, the Pacers front office negotiated a deal to acquire Tyrese Haliburton and others in a six-player deal, though it meant that had to part with Sabonis — who still had two more years left on an extension he signed with the Pacers in 2019.
Now, Haliburton is the face of the Pacers. At 22, he was just named an NBA All-Star for the first time. And Sabonis has helped the Kings surge up to third in the Western Conference standings, already match their win total from last year, and he was voted an All-Star for the third time.
“Congratulations to him on being an All-Star this year,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said before Friday’s 107-104 win over the Kings. “He’s so deserving and a big part in their success, their turnaround.
“More evidence that it was a great deal for both teams. Two All-Stars basically trading teams, those are the kind of deals you want to see.”
After the video played and Sabonis was showed on the giant video board, he clapped as he spun around to say thanks to every corner of The Fieldhouse. You could see it on his face, he appreciated the video. A rush of emotions hit him and it meant a lot.
Sabonis absolutely deserved a video like that. Tribute videos have been debated inside the Pacers organization for years, but an executive decision was made last season to begin doing them. Prior to the 2021-22 season, nobody received one.
We were all glad to see Sabonis get this moment and enjoy this moment because he deserved it. He was professional, reliable and tough. Forget missing games, he despised sitting out practices.
However, the trade came all so sudden one year ago. Haliburton didn’t understand it and was upset. And Sabonis had a mixed reaction about it. He knew changes were coming for the franchise, but more signs pointed to Myles Turner being the center dealt.
The Pacers hosted the Kings last March, a 110-109 loss, but Sabonis wasn’t with the team after he had just suffered a bruised left knee. So on this night, he was finally able to get the closure he deserved.
It’s just too bad his wife and son weren’t there. Yes, Domas is now a father.
A crowd of 17,274, the fourth sellout of the season, paid their respects to Sabonis during this tribute video. And then before the game tipped off, he exchanged a friendly hug and smily with Turner as they waited for the official to throw the ball up in the air.
These two were often pit against each other, but inside team walls, they were good. As others picked sides, they tried to keep this team together through many down moments and several coaching changes. They were two constants in the locker room.
The Pacers (25-30) led for the majority of the game and held on for a three-point win — in what was a low-scoring game between two fast-pace teams.
“These games with Sacramento have been real emotional games this year,” Carlisle said. “It’s draining, takes a lot out of everybody, including them. It’s good to have them behind us.”