The Indiana Pacers improved to 2-1 in preseason play after taking down the New York Knicks 109-100 on Wednesday. It was the Pacers first preseason game in their home arena — Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The teams traded baskets early and the Pacers were in the lead with 6.5 minutes to go in the first quarter. But the Knicks dominated the rest of the frame and grew the lead as large as 13. They were putting pressure on the rim and bending Indiana's defense with ease.
Knicks forward Julius Randle, in particular, gave the Pacers trouble early. His size and strength are tough for Indiana to cover, and he scored often. He had 10 points by halftime.
But the Pacers tightened up on defense from that point on. Indiana started to get stops once their starting five checked in during the second quarter, and the Pacers cut the lead as low as three just before halftime. That shift in momentum was important as the Pacers made a comeback.
The third and fourth quarters were back-and-forth battles, with the Pacers reclaiming the lead before the Knicks went up by 10 with 6:23 to go in the game. The blue and gold looked like they were in trouble.
But they dominated the rest of the way. Indiana outscored New York 25-6 over the final 6:09 of the game, which guided them to a nine-point win. Reserve big man Goga Bitadze and rookie point guard Andrew Nembhard were both excellent during the fourth quarter to help the Pacers make the comeback.
Nembhard had his best preseason game to date, finishing with 15 points and nine assists. He shot the ball well from deep and made plays with his passing. His strong play was needed since starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton sat out with a minor back injury, and Nembhard stepped up.
"Nembhard was great. Cool under pressure, big shots," head coach Rick Carlisle said of the rookie guard after the game.
The story of the game was sixth overall pick Bennedict Mathurin. The rookie wing dominated for the Pacers, hitting shot after shot from near the basket while getting to the free throw line for 12 free throw attempts. He was the engine of Indiana's offense, and he put on a show for the home crowd.
"Mathurin gets the ball in the hole and does it in an efficient way," Carlisle said after the game. Mathurin finished with 27 points, four rebounds, and one assist.
Forward Jalen Smith injured his pinky during the game, but Carlisle said that he will be okay. Between Smith and Haliburton, the Pacers were without two starters down the stretch of this game. But they found a way to pull out the victory.
This game was useful for the blue and gold in that it gave the team a chance to respond to film and gave the young players an opportunity to play in a closer game. Indiana took on New York last Friday, so the teams got to adjust against each other, and it led to a tight game.
The Pacers finalize preseason play on Friday at home against the Houston Rockets.
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