Pacers out to sweep home-and-home set from Pelicans

Field Level Media

March 01, 2024 at 1:21 am.

The Indiana Pacers started fast and finished strong in a 123-114 victory against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

The Pacers will be seeking a repeat performance when they visit the Pelicans on Friday night.

New Orleans will be better rested and hopeful of a different outcome in the rematch.

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle called Wednesday’s outcome “a massively important win.”

“This time of year, each game has such great meaning,” Carlisle added.

The Pacers and the Pelicans are in similar situations. The Pelicans’ record (35-25) is one game better than the Pacers’ (34-26).

Going into Thursday’s games, Indiana was in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and a half-game was all that separated the teams in the No. 5 and No. 8 spots. New Orleans was in sixth place in the Western Conference and one game was all that separated the teams in the No. 5 and No. 8 spots.

The Pacers bounced back strong from a poor performance in a 130-122 home loss to Toronto on Monday night.

Tyrese Haliburton made just 2-of-11 field-goal attempts against the Raptors, but he scored 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting against the Pelicans. More importantly the NBA assists leader had 13 dimes and just one turnover. He assisted on each of three consecutive baskets by Pascal Siakam in the final two minutes to put the Pelicans away.

“I’m just on the struggle bus right now, just trying to figure it out,” Haliburton said. “How can I help the team win and figure out what I can do? At the end of the game, they trust me with the ball in my hands and I just made some plays to win the game.”

New Orleans started its two-game road trip with a 115-92 win against the Knicks on Tuesday night, but the team plane had mechanical issues that delayed the departure from New York. The Pelicans didn’t get to their Indianapolis hotel until about 6 a.m. and had to complete a back-to-back that evening.

Indiana took a 40-24 lead at the end of the first quarter and led by as many as 20 points in the second quarter before New Orleans regrouped. The Pelicans never caught up, but made the Pacers work until the end.

“For us to get down 20 and battle back against a really good team and give ourselves a chance to win, this was a growth moment,” New Orleans coach Willie Green said.

The Pelicans’ comeback was aided by Green’s decision to remove 7-foot center Jonas Valanciunas, who averages 13.7 points and 9.6 rebounds, after he played just seven scoreless minutes, and use Larry Nance Jr. and Zion Williamson at center to slow down Indiana’s fast break.

The smaller lineup slowed down the Pacers, but they still finished with a 21-8 edge in fast-break points. Valanciunas’ absence helped Indiana have a 50-40 rebounding edge and a 13-12 advantage in second-chance points.

“We knew we were going to have to go small,” Green said. “It allows you to stay in front of them defensively.”

Green will try to find a better balance between his big and small lineups in the rematch.