INDIANAPOLIS — The Orlando Magic are one of the tallest teams in the NBA and started a four-player lineup that is at least 6ft 8in tall against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night.
The Magic’s size bothered the Pacers for a while to open the game. The space to drive to the basket was narrower, the overtaking lanes smaller. Indiana’s offense failed to find consistency against the larger roster.
So, naturally, Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle turned to a smaller group with the 6-foot-5-inch Terry Taylor in the middle. And it worked perfectly.
The Pacers were down for the first two and a half quarters of the game, and the Magic had an answer for every Pacers run. At 5:22 in the third quarter, Carlisle Taylor made his first substitution of the night with his team three minutes behind.
At the end of the quarter, the Pacers were up five. Taylor only had three points and two rebounds individually, but his speed on the inside allowed a small-ball unit to connect and Indiana went on a big run that turned the game 180 degrees.
“Terry had effective plays against them last year,” Carlisle said as he offered some of his arguments for turning to the forward as a sophomore. Taylor averaged 12.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game in three games against Orlando as a rookie. The head coach went on to praise Taylor’s tough play in the brief moment he stepped onto the pitch.
In the Pacers’ last nine games, Taylor has played just over six total minutes. But he was a game-changing presence for the Blue and Golds on Saturday night and the team held an advantage thanks to his strong display.
But there was still a lot to do. The Pacers weren’t much better, and the Magic still had their huge lineups to change the game with. Although Indiana was picking up the momentum, things were far from settled.
The Pacers went up seven in the fourth quarter with 8:33 to go, and Orlando took the lead again just two minutes later. Indiana then fought back to move up by four, only for the Magic to steal the lead again. The final 12 minutes were fantastic as teams traded shots.
The Magic found themselves four up with about 90 seconds left, but Aaron Nesmith quickly found space for the Pacers and buried a three-point shot to make it a game one point late. And neither team could buy a bucket for the next minute or so.
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But with ten seconds left, after a missed jump from Tyrese Haliburton, Nesmith skied and grabbed an offensive rebound to keep possession for the Blues and Golds. Mo Bamba immediately fouled Nesmith which put him on the free throw line. The first-year Pacer hit both free throws, which was enough for the Pacers to take the lead in the dying moments. They only needed one stop to win.
After impressive defensive possession, they got it:
The final result was 114-113. “We’ve improved our physical level,” Carlisle said of his team’s improved play in the second half.
“Just stop and get out and run,” Haliburton noted of the growth between the first and second halves. “They change a lot and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Haliburton was excellent for the Pacers despite choosing in the game to play with an ankle injury he sustained in Houston. He didn’t know if he would make it in the matchup until Saturday’s showdown against Gainbridge Fieldhouse, but he still had 22 points and 14 assists. These stat lines have become normal for the point guard.
Nesmith compiled his best game of the season with 19 points and five made three points. Carlisle nearly opened the second half with Nesmith after playing so well in the first two quarters, and the third-year wing was in the Pacers’ final lineup. He was excellent for the team on both sides.
“Aaron Nesmith was a big influence on this game defensively,” said Carlisle. “It was great to see him getting involved at both ends of the floor and having such a game.”
Myles Turner finished his fifth double-double in six games with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Jalen Smith (14 points) and Buddy Hield (15 points) also contributed.
Indiana is now 9-6 and has won four games in a row. They have won eight of their last ten games and lost just once in November. They are now fourth in the Eastern Conference standings.
They’ll be looking to break into the top four of the conference on Monday when they take on the Magic in a replay of Saturday night’s game.
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