Spirited showing by Pacers good for 140 points and opening night win over Nets

The first game of the season is always fun. There’s excitement, curiosity, and relief from players that they are finally playing for real. Enough with the warm-up games, they said.

Wednesday was no different as the Pacers modeled their new roster, new uniforms, and new attitude against the Brooklyn Nets. The Pacers, with only six players returning from last season, ran downhill and scored in bunches en route to a 140-131 victory to start the 2017-18 season on a high note.

Game 1 seemed more like the exception than the rule seeing as they scored 140 points or more just 10 times previously and for the first time since Nov. 9, 2010.

Rookie Ike Anigogu was barely 12 years old.

(Last year, they recorded 130 points in the season opener, an overtime win over Dallas.)

The fast pace of play, racing it down the floor, and attacking of the basket at any free opportunity is very real. Indiana scored 66 points in the paint and had eight players contribute 11 points or more led by 22 points, five rebounds, four assists, and four steals for Victor Oladipo, the former Indiana University standout.

“We don’t have the one guy where we can throw it to and create and try to get us a bucket,” Darren Collison, who scored the first basket of the Pacers’ season, said of their mindset to attack. “Points like that is going to help us out big time.”

Oladipo had 19 points by intermission and if not for foul trouble — he played less than 25 minutes — he surely would’ve topped 30.

With stretch bigs and downhill guards, as he put it, the Olympic-level conditioning that coach Nate McMillan preached throughout camp paid off in their first showing. Their goal is to tally at least 110 points per game and hold their opponent below 42-percent shooting. One for two on night one. (Brooklyn shot 48 percent.)

“I thought guys did a good job of doing exactly what coach has been training us for all preseason – getting out on the break, trying to be one of the most-conditioned teams in the NBA,” said Collison, who was terrific in his first game back with the franchise. Collison had a double-double (21 points and 11 assists) with five minutes to play in the third period.

McMillan on his starting point guard:  “I thought he did a good job of just running the team tonight, getting us into our sets, executing our offense, and taking the shot that was there.”

Remember when the Pacers struggled to reach 90 points? You know, for the Papa John’s Pizza deal Indy sports fans covet? Ha!, this team said.

They reached triple-digits with almost 14 minutes left.

It absolutely was a great start offensively for the Pacers getting contributions from all over. Bojan Bogdanovic failed to pull down a rebound in 30 minutes but he was 5 of 9 for 14 points.

“We have a roster full of guys that can go out there and score, and create for each other,” said Myles Turner, who finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks. “We’re pulling for each other.”

[Thad Young, Myles Turner voted team captains by teammates]

Second-year big man Domantas Sabonis, known around these parts as “the other guy” in the team’s trade of Paul George, was solid in his debut. His smooth and the game seemingly comes natural to him. And, as his teammates often point out, he’s a terrific screener.

On this night, he was perfect in 19 minutes off the bench. Sabonis made all seven of his field goals attempted for 16 points, plus seven rebounds.

“Damo is the real deal,” Oladipo said. “Domantas Sabonis can play basketball. Everybody talks about the trade as me for Paul [George] and everything like that, but I didn’t come here alone. I try to tell everybody that. No. 11 can play basketball. There’s a reason why the Pacers wanted him here. I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit.”

Of course the defense has to get better. They may not be a top-15 defensive team, but we know they will compete.

“Our pick-and-roll coverage has got to be a lot better,” detailed Turner, who is fully expecting 90-minute film session to go over Game 1. “Our weak side has to be in a lot more. We still have a lot of things defensively to clean up.”

The biggest takeaway, though: The spirit of this team.

It’s far too early to evaluate chemistry, but they have clicked. They played selfless basketball making the extra pass, which frequently led to an open look.

Stephenson had 16 points off the bench. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Without a start on the roster, everyone will have a chance to get theirs. And in talking with a half-dozen players in the locker room, they reiterated how it is an ego-free space.

“Nobody really has an ego,” said Lance Stephenson, of all players. “Everybody is just playing together, playing smart, and making the right plays. … We got a group of guys that just wants to win, and doing whatever it takes to win.”

And the energy level of this group must be highlighted. Maybe they are a fringe playoff team, but they look like a team fans can rally behind, as McMillan had hoped.

Stephenson, admittedly was too hyped for this one (they played his hometown Nets), missed his first six shots, and fired up a team-high 19 field goals, hitting just six.

“I don’t know what it was today but I was so hyped and I just wanted to win so bad,” he said after scoring 16 points. “I think I made a bad game look good.” [laughs]

On one of his attacks to the rim, Stephenson threw up a shot while losing his balance. It went in for two of their 66 points in the paint, and then we got a shimmy dance from him. That whole sequence led the entire bench to leap out of their seats and celebrate.

“Just the youth we have on this team, when you see exciting things happen you can’t help to jump up and cheer,” Turner added. “I think we’re going to see a lot of that this year.”

Players and teams, regardless of their level of success, are fueled by motivation and doubt from the outside. Not only does this team have a lot to prove, so do the players as individuals.

Game 1 was a positive step forward. But it’s just one of 82 games.

How about some defense?

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