Oladipo returns, makes first 11 shots in leading Pacers to victory over Magic

Victor Oladipo was in a groove Monday night, and he didn’t even know it.

“No, I was just playing. I had no clue,” Oladipo said after the Pacers’ 121-109 win over the Orlando Magic, the team that selected the IU product second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Oladipo made his first 11 shots and finished with a game-high 26 points. It was his 15th time in 19 games that he scored at least 21. He’s averaging 23 points per game and making 46 percent of his field goals, both career-highs.

It was uncertain whether he would be in uniform against his first pro team after he suffered a right knee bruise Friday in a win over Toronto. That kept him out of Saturday’s loss to Boston, which snapped a five-game win streak.

“There’s no word that can describe how bad that I wanted to play,” he said of their 10-point loss to the leaders in the Eastern Conference. “It was tough. Especially wanted to be out there helping my teammates out and I felt like I could’ve made a difference.”

Oladipo received treatment over the weekend, and even got in an upper-body lift on Sunday when they kept him off the court.

By shootaround on Monday, Oladipo was confident that he would be back with teammates after his one-game absence.

“Felt pretty good to be out there again playing. It was tough watching last game,” he reiterated. “I didn’t care who we was playing today, I was just trying to go out there and play.”

It was one of those games for Vic where everything went down. Where he got in a groove, inside and out, and made the other team wince.

“He was anxious to play and just came out aggressive and shot the ball with a great deal of confidence,” said coach Nate McMillan. “Those shots that he was taking – I know I yelled one time, ‘Vic, what are you doing?’ And the ball hit all bottom. When a guy is playing with that type of confidence, we try to put the ball in his hands and let him make plays and he did that tonight.”

The trainers did not place a minute restriction on him, and he did not show any signs of a bruised knee throughout their sixth straight win over Orlando.

“Victor is playing awesome,” said Lance Stephenson, who continued to be that fire for the team. He finished with 18 points, matching his season-high, plus eight rebounds, and five assists.

“He came off of injury and played like he never left. He’s playing great, he’s being a leader off and on the court and just bringing it every night.”

The Pacers (12-9) led for the majority of the game and by as many as 17 points. But the Magic (8-13), who’ve now lost nine in a row, made things interesting to begin the fourth quarter.

They used a 16-3 run to take an 86-85 lead 15 seconds into the final stanza. Then, the Pacers ripped off the next nine points, and took full control of the game via a 23-5 run.

Stephenson sparked the turnaround and made his presence felt. He grabbed rebounds, got his teammates involved, and made 7 of his 11 field goals. It’s his best three-game stretch of the season — 18, 16, and 18 points, respectively — and he’s been integral in their two wins.

Stephenson was a big reason why Indiana’s bench handled Orlando’s, outscoring them by 17 points.

“Man, I feel great,” he said. “It starts in practice. I never gave up even though I wasn’t making shots.”

“The one thing I love about this team is we compete,” added Myles Turner, who contributed 18 points and four rebounds. “We don’t ever stop competing. That’s the spirit and the fire that you have to have in these games.”

Seeing Oladipo thrive like this, in year 1 of his new, mega $84 million contract makes you wonder about last season in Oklahoma City when basketball observers felt Russell Westbrook deserved the MVP award for his triple-doubles and wins despite the lack of talent around him.

Well, Oladipo has led the Pacers to 12 wins in 21 games and Domantas Sabonis (13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) is also having a career year. They were both starters for the Thunder last season.

“He was very comfortable all night. He did his thing,” said Aaron Gordon, Oladipo’s former teammate. “I’m really proud of Victor, he seems like he’s very comfortable; he seems like he’s at home. They give him the freedom to do what he needs to do to help his team win.”

The Pacers leave for a two-game road trip with stops in Houston and Toronto on Tuesday, then return for a six-game homestand which begins next Monday.

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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