Pacers Rout LaMelo Ball, Hornets in Play-in Game; Will Face Wizards-Celtics Loser

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIMay 19, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 18: Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers dribbles the ball against the Charlotte Hornets during the 2021 Play-In Tournament on May 18, 2021 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers are now one win away from clinching a postseason berth after defeating the visiting Charlotte Hornets 144-117 on Tuesday in Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana scored 40 first-quarter points and held a 24-point halftime lead in a dominant performance that featured eight Pacers in double figures.

All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis was one assist shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists. Oshae Brissett's 23 points led the Pacers, who shot 55.2 percent from the field and out-rebounded Charlotte 54-36.

The Pacers excelled despite playing without Caris LeVert, who was declared out for Tuesday (health and safety protocols). LeVert had averaged 20.7 points in 35 games this year for the Pacers, who also played without defensive stalwart Myles Turner (turf toe).

Malcolm Brogdon (right hamstring) returned to the lineup after missing 10 games and added 16 points. Pacers forward Doug McDermott scored 14 of his 21 points in the first 4:52 of the game.

Hornets forward Miles Bridges led his team with 23 points and eight boards. LaMelo Ball scored 14 points.

Indiana will now travel to face the loser of the Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics play-in game, which tips off at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

The Wizards-C's winner will be the Eastern Conference's No. 7 seed, and the loser will host Indiana for the right to be the No. 8 seed.

Notable Performances

Hornets F Miles Bridges: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists

Hornets G Terry Rozier: 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists

Hornets G LaMelo Ball: 14 points, 4 assists

Pacers F/C Domantas Sabonis: 14 points, 21 rebounds, 9 assists

Pacers F Oshae Brissett: 23 points, 5 rebounds

Pacers G Malcolm Brogdon: 16 points, 8 assists

Shorthanded Pacers Crush Hornets

This was the Pacers' injury situation leading into the Hornets game:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

Final injury report:<br><br>Brogdon - Available (right hamstring)<br>A. Holiday - Available (right toe)<br>Lamb - Out (left knee)<br>LeVert - Out (health &amp; safety protocols)<br>Sabonis - Available (left quad)<br>Sumner - Available (left knee)<br>Turner - Out (right toe)<br>Warren - Out (left foot)

The Pacers' leading scorer (Brogdon) was coming off injury. The second-leading scorer (LeVert) was out. The third-leading scorer (and All-Star and nightly triple-double threat) in Sabonis was hurt enough to be placed on the injury report.

A defensive superstar averaging 3.4 blocks per game (Turner) continued to be sidelined. Last year's leading scorer (T.J. Warren) has missed all but four games. Lastly, the team's second-best three-point shooter (Jeremy Lamb) was out as well.

It's been a trying season for the Pacers under first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren, but this team showed a lot of heart and resiliency to overcome significant injuries and hurdles. They played so well that the game felt over after one quarter.

It was even hard to see the Hornets putting any sort of dent in the Pacers' lead after that effort. Over the first 7:36 of the game, McDermott had as many points (14) as the entire Hornets team. The Pacers matched McDermott's 14 points as well for an early 28-14 lead en route to a 40-24 first-quarter edge.

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

looks like they forgot the scouting report 📝@dougmcdermott = elite shooter 🎯 pic.twitter.com/OACAHeyuHa

The Hornets' three-point defense let a lot to be desired on this night, with the Pacers making 16 of 35 three-pointers. But there were serious issues on the glass, where Sabonis simply crushed any Charlotte low-post presence that crossed his path.

Pat Boylan @PatBoylanPacers

These stats do not count for regular season or post-season numbers...but Sabonis has 3 20-rebound games in his regular season career.<br><br>Has 20 tonight in the 3rd quarter.

Full Access Pacers @PacersContent

Rebounding<br><br>Domantas Sabonis: 20 <br>Charlotte Hornets: 24 pic.twitter.com/ACsORJV5rp

Otherwise, the Pacers did what they wanted against a Hornets team that looked a few steps too slow. Brogdon fired a quick pass to Justin Holiday for an easy two off an inbounds play:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

caught 'em napping 😴#AlwaysGame | @JustHolla7 pic.twitter.com/sS8Nar23RE

Charlotte also stopped playing defense at the end of the third quarter, giving T.J. McConnell a free look at the basket:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

T.J. beats the clock ⏰#AlwaysGame | @TJMcConnell pic.twitter.com/atWZsC4pri

And Brissett was a monster all game, punctuating this win with a transition dunk following a McConnell steal:

Indiana Pacers @Pacers

THROW THAT DOWN OSHAE 😤 pic.twitter.com/0SULNBzsKn

Indiana ultimately delivered a first-round knockout on Tuesday as it kept its season alive.


Hornets' Regular-Season Skid Bleeds Into Play-in Round

The end of the regular season went about as poorly as possible for the Hornets, who lost five straight games and allowed 115.0 points per game along the way. The Hornets were in four of the five games until the fourth quarter, with the lone exception being a 113-90 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

However, that skid left Charlotte with absolutely no positive momentum going into the play-in round, where the Hornets needed to win two road games in two different locations over three nights just for the right to make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

Ultimately, the Hornets just fell apart at a very inopportune time, and their season is over with a six-game losing streak.

With the exception of Bridges, who shot 10-of-16 from the field, and Cody Zeller, who made all seven of his field goals for 17 points, it was not a banner day for the Hornets rotation.

Ball has been tremendous all season, and he should be this season's Rookie of the Year. Tuesday just wasn't his night, though, as he shot 4-of-14 and committed four turnovers. P.J. Washington went just 3-of-10, and Devonte' Graham missed 7-of-8 buckets.

And that's not counting the defensive effort, which was at times non-existent:

#RingerNBA @ringernba

The Charlotte Hornets on defense pic.twitter.com/Nd7WupY9Ox

Stadium @Stadium

The Hornets' play-in game defense pic.twitter.com/y2bUopW1Zt

Pedro Rivera @PedroRiveraTV

The Pacers aren’t significantly better than the Hornets. The Pacers are an NBA team, you play no 3pt defense, most NBA shooters will knock it down. This is pathetic effort from Charlotte. I’ve never been more disappointed in this team and I remember the 7 win season #AllFly #CHA

After the game, Bridges provided a blunt and honest assessment of his team's performance.

Rick Bonnell @rick_bonnell

Miles Bridges, truth-teller: "We got our ass whipped today. Nothing else to it...They played like they wanted to be in the playoffs and we didn't."

Better days await for the Hornets, especially with Ball running point. The season as a whole was a massive improvement over the past five years, which saw the Hornets miss out on the playoffs by significant margins.

However, this is still a rough way for Charlotte to end the season, especially considering that the game felt over as soon as McDermott began nailing buckets all over the court.

What's Next?

The Pacers will hit the road to face Boston or Washington on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. TNT will carry the broadcast.

The Hornets' season is over.