Superstar showing from LeBron, Duarte forcing OT, a marriage proposal and Pacers fans removed from seats: This one had it all.
Duarte assists with marriage proposal, then forces OT with big 3. But LeBron rose to the occasion and had his best game of the season — and silenced fans.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers. And thank you for reading Fieldhouse Files.
It’s late after the Pacers’ game on Wednesday, a 124-116 overtime loss to the Lakers. And I’m sitting here wondering where to begin. Because the game, and events surrounding it, were a lot.
The Pacers had a double-digit lead and let the Lakers (10-10) back in the game, LeBron James returned from his one-game suspension to score a season-high 39 points, Chris Duarte helped a childhood friend propose during a timeout and later hit a game-tying 3 that forced overtime — where James took over and carried the Lakers to victory.
“Superstar players really put you up against it in so many different ways,” head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “As a team and the way we’re structured, we’ve just got to be completely on point with every single thing that we’re doing on both ends of the floor to beat a guy like that. And we didn’t do it.”
There’s games you look back on in March, when the regular season is nearing the end, and regret not handling your business. This was another one for the Pacers.
They were ahead 83-73 with 3:32 left in the third, then the Lakers ended the quarter on a 9-1 run. Once again, the Pacers failed to finish — and were outscored in the second half and overtime 64-50.
“The third quarter is what got us,” Carlisle said. “We built up a 10-point lead in the third and then we had a couple of really big defensive mistakes that turned a couple of their shooters open for wide-open 3s. The momentum turned there and we were never able to really capture it back.
This Pacers team is 8-12. And in nine of the 12 losses, they’ve trailed entering the fourth and have been unable to overcome. They suffered through another drought on Wednesday, committing three turnovers and missing nine straight shots over a five-minute stretch late in the fourth.
And still, they had a chance. Needing a 3-pointer with 22.6 seconds left, Carlisle drew up a play for Justin Holiday. But when he got denied, Malcolm Brogdon sent a pass to Chris Duarte, who was in the corner just in front of the Lakers bench.
He drained it with 6.5 seconds left to even the game at the end of regulation.
“I thought I was gonna get fouled because Avery Bradley, once I felt that contact on top of me, I threw it up,” Duarte said. “I thought I was gonna get fouled but they don’t call fouls on rookies I guess.”
We’ll see what the Last 2 Minute Report says on Thursday. Because that’s also how Holiday saw it.
“I saw him get fouled,” he said. “So when he went to shoot it, I saw him get hit on the arm and said, ‘OK, cool he got fouled.’
Duarte finished with 17 points in his best outing since the first of the month. Though he’s continuing to manage shoulder soreness, he looked comfortable and and unbothered during this one. He challenged guys, including James, and hit several key shots.
Once in the extra session, free basketball on Thanksgiving Eve, the Pacers then shot 2 for 11 and managed just four points. Both baskets were by Brogdon. The Lakers tweaked their defense and with Anthony Davis out due to a non-COVID illness, it was James who finished the game at center.
That essentially took Sabonis out of the game. He was held to two free throws, one shot attempt and one assist in the fourth quarter and OT.
That’s not a winning formula.
“They switched a lot,” said Brogdon, who finished with 28 points. “They upped their defense, their intensity, their ball pressure. I thought we played a little too slow. I think we’re best when we played fast. I thought we played a little too slow, they were able to get set and get stops.”
Added Carlisle: “We just couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle in the overtime. It was just tough.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, made five shots in OT and James himself had eight, including two big 3s. He was spectacular after his 1 for 5 start in the first period.
“He’s one of the greatest players of all time,” Brogdon said. “He’s been in that situation a thousand times so he’s not going to shy from the moment.”
Never poke the bear, come at the king, whatever relevant phrase you want to use. Multiple fans sitting courtside wanted to get their money’s worth so they were talking trash with James. Two in particular went beyond trash talking and made it personal, to the point where James tried to get the attention of official Matt Kallio (#88) late in overtime.
Finally, after burying back-to-back 30-footers, James pointed the courtside fans out to crew chief Rodney Mott, who then alerted security and they were escorted out.
“There’s a difference between cheering on your home faithful, booing opponents and things of that nature, not wanting your opponents to be successful,” James said. “And then there’s moments where it goes outside the line with obscene gestures and words that shouldn’t be tolerated in our game from nobody. I would never say it to a fan and a fan should never say it to a player.”
Watch the sequence below and hear what James had to say.
While James did not share specifically what was said or done, that he spent any time to even address it during an overtime game meant it clearly crossed the line.
The fans were sitting in row 1 across from the Lakers bench. And each seat in the first few rows has this card on it upon their arrival.
Then after the game, James walked towards a different group of fans next to the Pacers bench. He took out his mouthguard and got a big smile, then shouted "I told you! I told you!"
That was friendly banter. Bu don’t awake a sleeping giant. Didn’t Lance Stephenson teach fans that years ago?
One fan scored a life-changing moment earlier in the game. During a timeout, a “random” fan was chosen to participate in a contest. When a prerecorded video featuring Duarte was played on the videoboard overhead and he began to list items associated with a wedding, he then went off script. “I'm going to be your best man, right? Luis, have you even asked her?
Luis Herrera got down on one knee and proposed to Kaelene Walter, a softball player at the University of Dayton. Duarte watched from across the floor, wore a proud smile on his face and clapped in celebration. “We’ve been talking about that. That’s my best friend,” Duarte said.
Brogdon wished fans a Happy Thanksgiving before tipoff. Frank Vogel got to see Nancy Leonard and take a photo with her. Five Colts players were courtside and fans roared when running back Jonathan Taylor was shown on the video board. Duarte’s best friend got engaged, then LeBron hit big shot after big shot and The Fieldhouse was rocking like it hadn’t for more than 18 months.
“That game was really fun,” Brogdon said.
T.J. Warren update
Tuesday marked three weeks since T.J. Warren’s last scan, when he was given clearance to get out of the walking boot and increase his activity on the court.
Carlisle said before the game that the regular scans will now be every four weeks so the next update should be delivered next Tuesday.
“And from there,” he said, “maybe we’ll have a better idea of what a reasonable timetable looks like.”
“His spirit is good. This morning at shootaround, he was actually doing some spot shooting with some of the guys at his position. Not moving around that much, but being out there with the team and participating in a little something is something that’s heartwarming for all of us and it appeared to be for him too.”