Pacers complete injury-filled season where they changed course, setting up for an active summer
The Pacers were shorthanded from the start and it kept getting worse. They pivoted midseason, made three trades and will soon have their highest draft pick since the '80s.
Inside their practice facility, the Pacers got in one last practice on Friday. Well, at least as much they could do without enough players available to even play 5-on-5.
But on Friday, for the first time in over a decade, there was a finality to the season.
Friday was their final practice and Sunday would be their final game. No matter what, the flight home on their Delta charter plane would be their last as a group. Changes are inevitable after each season, which typically comes abruptly.
Like last season and in 2015, win their final game of the season and they’re in the playoffs. But they did not.
“It’s such a spirited group that you don’t want it to end,” said Rick Carlisle, who’s completing his first season back as Pacers head coach. “These guys are great to be around every day, they’ve been super coachable, they’ve continued to compete. But, it’s been a long grind as well.
“I think we take it both ways — there’s always a disappointment when a season comes to an end, but this is a group that needs rest and we got a big summer ahead of us. Our young guys will have a few weeks off and then we’ll have them back in for two or three increments to work on body, to work on skill development.”
The nine Pacers available fought to make Game 82 competitive and interesting until the very end. But ultimately it ended like the nine previous games had, in a loss.
The Nets never trailed, shot 64 percent from the field, got 35 points from Kyrie Irving and a triple-double (20-10-16) from Kevin Durant in a 134-126 win inside the Barclays Center — where the draft will be held on June 23rd.
“It’s crazy to think about,” starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton said of the season ending Sunday. “It feels like this season has went by so fast, but it’s just part of it. Hopefully we get winning next year and then we won’t have this feeling.”
After the game, there was a special visitor in the Pacers’ locker room. Steve Simon, son of owner Herb Simon (and also the alternate governor), was invited in by Carlisle.
“He was just phenomenal,” Carlisle said. “He thanked the guys for their competitive spirit, their fight, talked about the future and how the struggles we’ve gone through this year are gonna bear through going forward. We really appreciated him being in there.”
The Pacers had a 19-35 record just ahead of the trade deadline when they made their first of three deals, sending guard Caris LeVert to Cleveland. Acquiring Haliburton, along with Buddy Hield, was their biggest move.
Then they finished the season 6-22.
A few key notes about their season:
Warren, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, Goga Bitadze and Jalen Smith finished the season unavailable due to injuries.
396: Number of games players missed due to injury.
They had only nine players in uniform for their final two games, including Gabe York being called up from the G League and signing a two-way contract.
Of the nine guys, just two (McConnell and Brissett) were on the opening day 15-man roster and five spent time in the G League: Jackson, Stephenson, Washington Jr., Taylor and York.
Lack of player availability took a big hit on their defense. Opponents scored an average of 127.8 points per game during the 10-game losing streak to end the season, 5.5 points more than the next team.
They used 37 different starting lineups this season, the third most in the NBA, per Chris Denari.
They had more players on the roster (30) than wins. Three players in just one game.
Their final win of the season was on March 20 against Portland.
The final month of the season allowed for the coaching staff and front office to get a strong handle on many of the young guys. Oshae Brissett finished strong and tallied a season-high 28 points against the Nets. Two-way guys Duane Washington Jr. and Terry Taylor, both of whom went undrafted a year ago, earned standard NBA contracts. Rookie Isaiah Jackson exploded to the rim and showed many flashes after battling some injuries, and Lance Stephenson kept us all entertained.
“Our young guys all had a phenomenal set of opportunities over the last two months to show what they can do,” Carlisle shared. “We found out a lot about their bodies, their skillsets, how they fit in, about things they need to work on this season. That’s a very positive thing.”
One player who opted to return for the final week of the season was T.J. McConnell. The point guard played in the final three games and while I questioned the move because the risk outweighed the gain, he needed it as much as his team needed him.
They needed all the healthy bodies they could get. He had missed 55 games due to right wrist surgery. And if not for a couple last-minute signings, they may have only had eight for the final weekend — the minimum number required to play.
“I think it’s a good segue into the summer for us and for myself,” said McConnell, who had 14 points and five assists in 31 minutes. “Proud of this group, just really didn’t have enough. Didn’t have enough bodies, didn’t have enough to get over the hump.”
Added Carlisle: “Seeing him and Tyrese (Haliburton) out there together is really great because these guys motor the ball up and down the floor so fast and it really brings an element of speed that we have not had. It was awesome that he was out there.”
Haliburton is just 22. He recorded a 17-point, 10-assist double-double in the season finale. And with the Pacers, he averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. There's a lot to like there.
In the immediate aftermath of the season, he plans to take time for self-reflection about his individual play and what the team can do to improve.
“A lot of conversations with coaches and players and the front office about what they expect of you going into the offseason and how you can improve your game,” he said. “I think it’s just constant conversations and reflections.”
After reaching the postseason 25 times over a 31-year span, the Pacers have now been on the outside two seasons in a row.
Their 25-57 record is their worst since the 1984-85 season when they won 22 games then drafted Wayman Tisdale with the second overall pick.
The Pacers have never had the top overall pick. But already, they’re guaranteed to draft inside the top 10 for the first time since 1989. (And they’ll be rooting for the Cavaliers to win a play-in game so they reach the playoffs. If they do, the Cavs’ first-round pick is sent to the Pacers as part of the midseason trade for LeVert.)
“There’s some positives from the year, but there’s a lot of things we got to do better and all of us got to do better,” Carlisle said. “And so the summer begins now.”
And to quote the late, great Slick Leonard: “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…”
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Gabe York Makes NBA Debut
One of the highlights from the pair of games this weekend was Gabe York getting a shot in the NBA. He’s 28, played professional basketball for seven years in five different countries all with a focus of playing in The Association.
He scored his first point at the free throw line Saturday in Philadelphia, then made a few shots. Afterward, Carlisle presented him with the game ball in the locker room.
“Gabe is a good player," Jackson said. “… I was telling him when we were sitting out, ‘I know this is a lot right now. Just let the game come to you. Don’t try to force it. Just let it come to you. Once you get out there, it’s just a natural type of thing.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I got you.”
"He threw a couple lobs, scored, made a three. That was big time. After, we huddled and stuff, we shared a moment."
York was signed to a two-way contract on Thursday.
“After today, I can say I got to live out the only dream I’ve ever had since I was 5 years old this last week,” he wrote on Instagram. “It was short but I wouldn’t change my life or career for anything. I’ve had to get it out the mud since I left college and today I can say I played in the NBA. This ain’t the end TRUST ME.”
Here’s a perfect trivia question for this season: Which Pacer attempted the final shot of the 2021-22 season?
The last one to join the fold, Gabe York.
Nate Hinton Misses Out, Returns to Indy
Like York, Nate Hinton jumped from the Fort Wayne Mad Ant to the Pacers on a two-way deal last week. However, Hinton had a setback.
After practicing with the team on Friday and accompanying them on the trip to Philadelphia, he entered the NBA’s health and safety protocol. Therefore, he was not available for the final two games — he definitely would have played — and returned back to Indianapolis in a car.
David Benner Closes His Chapter With the Pacers
Lastly on here, I want to give a shout-out to DB. This is it for the Indiana native.
He’s retiring after 36 seasons around the Pacers, first as a reporter and then the last 28 years as the director of public relations. He’s been loyal to the franchise and an advocate for me over the last 10 seasons, which I’ll never forget.
And, as you see in the photo above, the office in the media room now permanently bears his name.
All season long, he’s taken photos with someone special at each road game. It was Carlisle for his final game, and I was glad the national ESPN broadcast took a moment to recognize him. (At the last home game, I had to get a photo as well.)
You’ll hear more from him in the coming weeks.
Lastly, thanks to all of you for reading and subscribing. It is your passion for the team and engagement online that makes coverage from me possible.
This was Year 10 for me.
I sincerely miss locker room access and those special stories that can be told. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that fans need a personal connection. You need someone or a group to root for more than just the laundry. And it’s from that connection where you can find joy and wish to see them succeed.
So thanks again for following along. But don’t go anywhere. I already have several big offseason pieces in the works.