Pacers set tone for Summer League week with Game 1 win

Popeye Jones and staff.

Popeye Jones and staff.

ORLANDO, Fla. — After a Summer League practice late this week, Joe Young made clear that after last year’s 1-4 record, he was ready to bounce back in a big way … with a championship in mind.

“I feel like we’re going to win it,” he said Thursday, confident as ever.

Well, the Pacers opened play Saturday afternoon at the Amway Center against the Orlando Blue Team and just crushed them. It was obvious which team featured a handful of guys with NBA contracts that had spent a year playing together.

That’s the Pacers, with core pieces of Young, Glenn Robinson III, Shayne Whittington, Young, and Rakeem Christmas. Add into the equation a talented, do-it-all rookie in Georges Niang and the result was a 93-66 stomping of Orlando’s ‘A’ Team.

“I think to start the week, I think this is one of the best situations — obviously to win big and play as well as everybody played, I think that it will build everybody’s confidence as we go on with the rest of the week,” said Pacers Summer League coach Popeye Jones.

[VIDEOS: Popeye Jones, Joe Young, Georges Niang after Summer League Game 1]

The Pacers won every quarter, which is rewarded here at Summer League. In an eight-point system, a win earns four points and one point is given out to the winner of each quarter. At the end of Day 1, the Pacers are atop the standings, along with Detroit and Miami, with eight points each.

Second-year scoring guard Joe Young picked up right where he left off from last year as the leading scorer in Orlando. Young clearly showed that he was the best player on the floor.

“I was just playing the game,” said Young, who scored a game-high 22 points and assisted on four baskets. “I felt myself getting better, and I have gotten better. … I liked the intensity from the team. It wasn’t just about me out there. It was about the team, how we executed on the defensive end and the offensive end.”

Young made it a point to get his teammates going, and then he found his own gaps to attack. He sparked a 15-2 run in the second frame, drilling his first four 3-pointers, which pushed the Pacers ahead by double digits. It was never close again.

Then, in the middle of the third, he threw it down with authority … but fell hard on his tailbone. After taking a minute, he got up and hobbled to the bench.

“He jumps better going off of his right foot and (finishing) with his left hand so I knew he was going to make it but I was just hoping that he didn’t hurt himself seriously because I know this is a big week for him,” coach Jones said.

See Also: Summer League serves as a learning tool for all — Popeye Jones to coach Pacers

Joe Young scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Joe Young scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Young insisted on staying in rather than let his lower back get tight on the bench. And…

“Just to show that I’m a tough guy,” he said. “I don’t want to be the one to go dunks on somebody and then comes out limping. I just wanted to get up on my own and show that I have the toughness in me to play at the next level, play at an All-Star level.”

(By the way, Young said one of his phones was dead after the game due to all of the reaction texts and tweets.)

Niang stood out not only for his big numbers, particularly on the glass, but for making the right play when the ball was in his hands. The Pacers’ second-round pick posted a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) and also contributed five assists and two steals.

“He understands what’s going on on the floor, and defensively, you saw him,” said Jones. “He can get out and really disrupt pick-and-rolls and get back to his guy. … He’s a unique player, a four man that can not only make plays like that, but can rebound, push it on the break, and then he can knock down threes as well. I was very pleased with him today.”

Niang, out of Iowa State University, said he didn’t have any nerves entering Game 1 because this is the fun part and what he likes to do. Vertical testing and lane agility on the other hand…

“I was just trying to do my thing and help my team win,” Niang said. “I know who I am and I’m not going to skew away from who I am regardless of what level I’m playing at. It’s got me this far so I’m just going to stick to my guns.”

Niang's double-double earned him postgame TV duties.

Niang’s double-double earned him postgame TV duties.

This was Young’s first time playing in game action with Niang and he came away impressed, saying that he reminds him of the Warriors’ Draymond Green for his heart and versatility.

“He spreads the floor. I came off a pick a couple times and both defenders came up to me and he was open,” said Young. “It’s my job, and I have to do a better job of finding him because he can knock down that shot. He’s very versatile, he can bring the ball up the court, he rebounds, set screens, and is a great player. He’s a good pickup for us.”

The Pacers assisted on 21 of 35 field goals, but also committed 28 turnovers — including five in the first five minutes. That’s a big issue, but not entirely unexpected being the team’s first game as a group. They want to play faster, and you could often hear the voice of assistant Bill Bayno shouting “GO GO GO RUN RUN RUN!”

“My biggest thing since Day 1 of camp, if we take care of the ball we’ll be able to get a quality shot and score a lot of points,” Jones said. “We got 28 turnovers and we scored 93 points so that’s 28 times that we didn’t get a shot and still scored 93 points.

“We want to run, we want to play uptempo. But the responsibility is taking care of the ball if you want to be a running team because you’re giving them so much freedom as a coach to get out, and be creative, and play.”

Glenn Robinson III had a good first game with the Pacers, shooting 6-for-13 from the field, scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Remember, he wasn’t a Pacer until after Summer League, during which he played on Atlanta’s team. Christmas’ passes were poor, resulting in four turnovers, but he made five of six shots and accounted for 10 points and seven rebounds.

Game No. 2 is set for Sunday at 1:00 p.m. ET against the Charlotte Hornets. Like every game, it can be seen on NBA TV or online at WatchESPN.com.

[Five Pacers highlight team’s roster]

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