INDIANAPOLIS — The Pacers lost 122-115 to the Pistons, but in so doing helped their draft lottery position with the season winding to a close.
The Pacers fell to 34-47, which keeps them tied for the sixth-best draft lottery position. The Washington Wizards won on Friday night and the Magic lost, so the Pacers and Magic are tied with the Portland Trail Blazers holding the fifth-best draft position at 33-47. They were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday. The Pistons improved to 17-64 but still have the worst record in the NBA.
Here are four observations.
Jaden Ivey played like it mattered
The Pistons have already locked up the worst record in the NBA regardless of what happens down the stretch and the Pacers have been eliminated from postseason play for most of this week, and it was pretty clear this game didn’t matter all that much to either team. It did, however, mean something to Jaden Ivey.
The former Purdue star and South Bend native played his second NBA game in his home state and showed out. Ivey scored 29 points on 9 of 20 shooting, hitting 3 of 8 3-pointers and dishing out nine assists to bolster his candidacy for an All-Rookie team spot.
Ivey scored 17 points in his first trip to Gainbridge Fieldhouse as a professional on Oct. 22.
Killian Hayes, a 21-year-old third-year guard, added 28 points.
“The two guards were terrific, Ivey and Hayes,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “And their bigs caused problems around the basket.”
The Pacers’ second unit was depleted and played that way
The Pacers have already been short-handed for most of the last two weeks with All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and center Myles Turner‘s seasons effectively being shut down and guard Chris Duarte being out with a sore left ankle. The Pacers added to their injured list on Friday with veteran point guard T.J. McConnell (hip) and center Jalen Smith (knee) both held out. McConnell registered 18 points and 12 assists in Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks and had been exceptional for most of the last two weeks. Smith scored 19 points against the Knicks and scored in double figures in each of his last six games.
With those two out, the Pacers had to dig deep to find a second-unit point guard and center and decided on veterans George Hill and James Johnson to play with recent two-way signee Gabe York, veteran wing Buddy Hield and forward Oshae Brissett. The Pistons were so depleted they had to play their starters for most of the game, but that made the matchups particularly rough for the Pacers bench players. Predictably, things went sideways when they checked in in the first half and all five of them finished with plus-minus figures of -13 or worse in the first half.
It didn’t get much better in the second half. York was -6, but they other four were all in negative double digits with Brissett posting a -19.
Even with the Pistons playing a shorter bench, using four substitutes, but the Pacers still only outscored them 49-42. Hield had a big night, but the other four were held to single digits and were a combined 8 of 19 from the field. The also committed eight of the Pacers’ 19 turnovers. Johnson had six points and six rebounds but six turnovers. Hill had nine points and five assists.
“That’s just basketball, man,” Hield said. “Coming down to the last game, guys are just playing basketball trying to be aggressive and trying to make an end-of-season impression.”
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Buddy Hield hit his career-high for 3s
With this game being what it was, there weren’t a whole lot of guardrails or standards for what constituted a good shot, so Buddy Hield was allowed to rock out and in the process, he matched (broke) his career high for 3-pointers.
Hield made 5 of 11 3-pointers on Friday and now has 283 on the season, which exceeds his previous career high of 282 set in 2020-21. Hield is second in 3-pointers made this season to only the Golden State Warriors‘ Klay Thompson who has 290.
“I should’ve been up to 300 this year, but I’ll save that for next year,” Hield said. “It’s just a testament of me doing what I’ve been doing for the past seven years in the league. it’s fun. My teammates have me in the right spots.”
Hield finished 7 of 14 from the floor for 22 points. He now has 1,700 3-pointers in his career which puts him 29th all-time and 12th among active players. Dale Ellis is next up on the list with 1,719.
“It’s a historic season for Buddy Hield,” Carlisle said. “He sets the Pacers all-time 3-point record and he surpasses his own career high. Career wise, he’s on pace to be one of the most prolific shooters of all-time. He’s had a great year shooting the ball, no question about it.”
With Turner and Smith both out, Isaiah Jackson got the bulk of the minutes at center. He was the Pacers’ most efficient offensive player and also got some work done on the defensive end.
Jackson scored 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and also blocked three shots. The Pacers will have some decisions to make in 2023-24 for exactly how deep they want to be at the 5 and whether they still want to alternate Smith and Jackson as Turner’s backups. Smith has had an excellent close to the season, but Jackson’s production served as a reminder of how valuable his athleticism can be.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers vs. Pistons: Indiana loses season’s last home game