Pacers end regular season with a win and 34-38 record, face Hornets in play-in tournament
They won 4 of their last 7 games to earn the 9-seed, and thus a home game Tuesday night.
Oshae Brissett had the game of his life Sunday afternoon in Tampa against his former team. The Pacers’ midseason pickup finished with a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds, leading them to a 125-113 win over the Raptors to conclude the regular season.
Afterward, Brissett sported a big grin on the court as he spoke with former coaches and teammates, then exchanged jerseys with Paul Watson Jr. before completing the postgame interview on Bally Sports Indiana.
Because of that, he was the last to arrive in the locker room and teammates dumped water on his head in celebration. It wasn’t the first time this season, but perhaps the most meaningful.
“He’s been doing a great job, playing his role the right way,” Pacers coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “His size out there at that four spot makes him very versatile. He can hit the 3, he’s rebounding it. … I think he does a good job of cutting when he’s supposed to cut. His instincts are good, but just his overall work ethic is what got him here. He’s been a worker his entire life and plays hard.”
The most impressive thing about Brissett is how he’s handled the situation. He first joined the team six weeks ago and quickly became an integral piece due to never-ending injuries.
In March, he was in Arizona without a job. A Pacers starter for the interim, he’s not shown signs of being overwhelmed.
“Just sticking with who I am, not trying to go out there and prove anything or be anything that I’m not,” he said after posting his fifth double-double in 21 games. “I know coach Nate for who I am as a player and that’s what has kept me grounded. The guys on the team are real open, really welcoming. They respect me and I respect them a lot.”
Brissett is playing more than 28 minutes per game this month, he’s started in 16 of the 21 games and spent significant minutes lately guarding the best player on the other team. Like Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James in the last week.
“I did not expect anything like that,” he said with a big smile. “This is where I want to be, I want to be in the NBA for a long time and those are guys I’m gonna have to go up against.”
Quickly after celebrating Brissett’s play and more importantly, the win, the Pacers turned their attention to the TV. The Wizards had trailed the Hornets all game, but made a remarkable comeback to earn the 8-seed. The Pacers’ win secured the 9-spot, and the Hornets would be 10th and their opponent in Tuesday’s play-in tournament.
Yes, it’s gimmicky. Yes, it’s another revenue stream. But it does extend the Pacers’ season. Without it, they would be holding exiting interviews on Monday instead of preparing to play the Hornets Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. (Note the early start time of 6:30 p.m. ET. It’s the first game of a double-header that includes Wizards at Celtics.)
The winner of Hornets-Pacers play at the loser of Wizards-Celtics, and the loser of that game is done for the season. The Pacers must win — yes, this one is a must-win game — on Tuesday and Thursday — for the right to be the 8-seed and face the top-seeded 76ers.
No, it’s not ideal.
The Pacers won four of their final seven games to be in this position and their losses were reasonable. Even though they’re shorthanded, they disposed of the opponents they should — like the Cavaliers and Raptors.
34-38 is below where everyone pegged them to finish, but nobody could have foreseen the rash of injuries, like losing T.J. Warren after four games, trading Victor Oladipo and Caris LeVert being diagnosed with kidney cancer and having his left one removed. They signed two players from their G League team and despite turmoil that is very real inside the locker room and centers around Bjorkgren, this group rallied together for a reasonable finish.
“I got his back,” T.J. McConnell, who finished with 12 points and 17 assists, said of Bjorkgren. “I know all the players in this locker room have his back and that shows by how we’ve played. We haven’t quit on him. A great guy, a great coach and we love playing for him.”
With the regular-season wrapped up, here’s how the Pacers finished in key areas.
First, Myles Turner proudly led the league in blocks per game (3.4) and McConnell was No. 1 in total blocks (128). Turner has missed the last 16 games and is likely done for the season due to a big toe injury.
Points per game: 6th, 115.3. (Last year: 23rd, 109.4)
Assists: 2nd, 27.3. (7th, 25.9)
Steals: 5th, 8.5. (20th, 7.4)
Blocks: 1st, 6.4. (11th, 5.2)
Defensive rating: 14th, 111.9. (6th, 107.5)
Fast break points: 2nd, 16.6. (18th, 12.8)
Opponent second-chance points: 30th, 15.3. (18, 13.2)
Opponent points in the paint: 30th, 53.8. (14, 47.6)
And here’s the kicker: Pacers have scored 8302 total points and allowed 8305. A net of minus-3 for the season.