2018 Pacers Summer League: Day 2 Notebook

T.J. Leaf, Pacers, NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS — With the Pacers’ summer league game Saturday airing on ESPN2, this 13-player squad has appeared on national television as many times as the Pacers did during the 2017-18 regular season.

This time they were on the big stage to open Saturday’s slate of games at the Thomas & Mack Center, and they were coming off a three-point loss to Houston. The Summer Spurs, meanwhile, were playing their first game.

Five Pacers scored in double figures, led by T.J. Leaf’s 17 points, as they led most of the game en route to a 86-76 win.

[Click here to read my notebook from day one in Las Vegas]

They purposely went inside and to Leaf on the team’s first two possessions. Leaf, playing in his second summer league session, did not press like he did in Friday’s game. It wasn’t nerves then, but perhaps it was the pressure of being the team’s number one option. He scored their first four points just 58 seconds in, matching his point total from game one.

“I for sure was looking for him early, just to try to get him going,” point guard Aaron Holiday said of Leaf. “He played really well for us today.”

Do players bounce back, can they put up consistent numbers, and how they impact a game are some of the many questions teams want answered during this 11- day event featuring 82 games in a sizzling Vegas.

Early on, they played too fast and put up quick shots rather than getting into the offense. That improved in the second half. The Pacers took control in the third quarter, scoring 22 points holding the Spurs to just eight in ten minutes.

“Defense. We just picked up our defense,” said Holiday, who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists.

Summer League head coach Steve Gansey tried different lineups, going big. And then they switched at all five positions, something the Pacers did not — well, could not — do last season. While they shot 27.6 percent from distance, the Spurs were worse at 21.1 percent and outscored by 12 points behind the line.

“Alize (Johnson), Ben (Moore), T.J., AP (Alex Poythress) out there – I love that lineup. We were big and you can do a lot of different things defensively.”

They also handled the ball well, turning it over just eight times.

T.J. Leaf, Aaron Holiday, Pacers, NBA Summer League

The UCLA connection – Aaron Holiday and T.J. Leaf run a pick-and-roll.

Leaf’s follow-up to his play yesterday was the most encouraging thing. They need him to lead, be consistent, and play confidently. “Once TJ started going, we started feeding him,” Holiday said. “We kept running the same play.”

One thing Holiday singled out was his defense. He didn’t handle pick-and-roll sets as well as he should, and those are run often in the NBA. From game one to game two, he felt he did a better job after “getting messed up on the calls and everything. Today I really got out there and got over the pick, and did what I was supposed to.”

“One of the things that Aaron has to continue to learn is pick-and-roll defense, especially in the NBA game,” coach Gansey said. “Really jamming pick-and-rolls, not giving any angles, working on his footwork. I thought he did a really good job of jamming in those pick-and-rolls like we showed him on film beforehand.”

C.J. Wilcox scored 13 points in 15 minutes and Alize Johnson was rebound shy of a double-double (10 points, nine rebounds). The Pacers resume play Monday at 5:00 pm ET against the Cleveland Cavaliers (ESPN2).

Moore Gatorade, Please

We need to talk about Ben Moore. While there’s nothing flashy about his game, he’s reliable. In a starting role, Moore finished with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and zero turnovers in 21 minutes.

At 6-foot-8, he’s versatile, able to stretch defenses with a shot from long distance, and he is a gnat around the rim. You have to get more than a hand on him. He still has room to grow into his body and add some muscle, perhaps Moore’s greatest quality is his hustle.

Like this play. In the final minute of the game, he dove into the stands, knocking over a dozen cups full of Gatorade and water in the process.

“That’s what we’re all about. That was a huge play by Ben because we scored on that,” said Gansey. “Alex Poythress had a putback and then they came back and hit a three. If we didn’t score that it would have been a six-point game with 30 seconds left. That was a huge play. That’s Ben Moore for you.”

Holiday added: “We just have a lot of effort. We want to win, and will do whatever it takes.”

Sumner Sits

When the Pacers hit the floor for pre-game warmups, starter Edmond Sumner was not out there. He arrived minutes later, in uniform, but did not actively get involve. Instead of stretching and shooting, he rebounded for his teammates.

It turned out that Sumner, the 52nd pick in the 2017 draft, is dealing with right knee soreness and he was held out.

“We’re just monitoring his play in a back-to-back,” Gansey said. They Pacers have Sunday off.

“That’s what it was like during the Fort Wayne season. We wanted to sit him and then get two days of rest, and then he’ll play against the Cavs on Sunday. He banged knees the other day. We don’t want to give him a lot of minutes both games.”

My biggest takeaway from Sumner’s play in game one was his instinct and desire to get to the rim. You could tell that it was a focus of his. He could do a better job of taking contact, and quite frankly didn’t get the benefit of a whistle, but you like where his heads is at — especially in summer league. Drive, attack, and dish, if necessary.

McMillan Joins the Broadcast

Nate McMillan, Pacers, NBA Summer League

Pacers coach Nate McMillan courtside with his staff at Vegas Summer League.

During the second quarter, Pacers head coach Nate McMillan joined the ESPN commentators Jorge Sedano and P.J. Carlesimo. He was in the air on Friday and so he missed their first game. Here are his notable responses.

  • On Domantas Sabonis: “He really raised our basketball IQ out on the floor. He made our guys better. He’s a big that can play the four or five position. … He did a real solid job with us for that second unit.”
  • What Tyreke Evans provides: “Another playmaker, scoring. We are really happy with the free agents that we signed this offseason.”
  • On T.J. Leaf: “We wanted him to be aggressive and just play and have some fun. I thought in the first game yesterday, he was pressing a little bit. Talked to him last night and told him not to press yourself out here. He’s looking much better here today. … We wanted him to get stronger and pick it up on the defensive end.”
  • On Alize Johnson: “Love his motor. This kid comes in and brings a lot of energy to the floor. He’s an excellent rebounder, can handle the ball in transition. He just lifts the practices with his energy and his scrappiness when he gets on the floor.”
  • Continuity with the roster: “We’re excited about that. Three of our guys had the opportunity to opt out and test the free-agent market. They liked the culture and what we’re trying to create in Indiana.”
  • Myles Turner’s offseason: “Want him to add to bulk. This kid can pretty much do everything. Wants to improve in the post and rebounding.”
  • On the impact of Victor Oladipo: “The week after we were eliminated by Cleveland, Victor was in the gym every single day. He gets it. He understands what he needs to do. Took a lot of contact attacking the basket so he wanted to build that body up. … There was a lot of noise when that trade was made but his thing was to go show the league what he was capable of.”

Pritchard’s Comments Misunderstood

First, let’s make one thing abundantly clear: The Pacers like Lance. They know Lance, appreciate Lance. They’re like a proud parent when he makes a mistake – understanding but disappointed.

They even offered him more money after the Los Angeles Lakers offered him $4.5 million, which he ultimately accepted.

The Pacers held a press conference on Friday (July 6), soon after the NBA’s moratorium concluded. Free-agent pickups Doug McDermott and Tyreke Evans were in town to visit, take a physical, sign their contract, and meet with the media. They were joined by President Kevin Pritchard and coach McMillan.

An excerpt of Pritchard’s comment regarding Lance Stephenson were quickly picked up and shared over social media, and even reached Lance. He even responded on Instagram, but then took down the post minutes later.

The quote of note came 16 minutes into a 20-minute presser. I’m not making an excuse for anyone. Pritchard has actually used the line in a humorous way. In condensed form, though, it obviously doesn’t go over well. That’s why I feel it’s important to share his full thought.

“At the end of the day, Lance gave us some great years and we love Lance. We love Lance on the court, we love Lance off the court. Sometimes he was the best player on our team and sometimes he was the best player on the other team. But we love Lance and we wish him the best.

“There was an opportunity for him to come back and we understand that he really wanted to go with the Lakers. We really understand that. It’s sort of a dream and I think when LeBron calls you up and says I want you, it’s hard for him to turn that down.”

And to fully understand the comment, it’s best to watch for yourself.

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