The Indiana Pacers are 3-0 for the first time since 2013-14.
And they were not phased in their initial road-home back-to-back of the season against the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics. All of this is coming with a rookie head coach and brand new offensive system.
But boy did the Blue and Gold show some toughness to stay undefeated. Nate Bjorkgren had himself a gauntlet in his first three games as a NBA head man as well; Facing veterans Tom Thibodeau, Billy Donovan, and Brad Stevens all within a week.
Don’t sleep on the rookie.
As they cruised to a 125-106 win in Chicago on Saturday, the Pacers had to grind out their 108-107 victory over the Celtics on Sunday night. Victor Oladipo dropped 22 points in the Windy City, but did not play versus Boston as he is still on the road back to 100 percent from the quad injury.
No Oladipo means it was once again time for the Domantas Sabonis show.
The 2019-2020 NBA All-Star balled-out with a triple-double in Chicago and had 22 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. It turned out to be a pretty big weekend for Sabonis, as he picked up 19 more points and 10 boards in the first of two straight battling the Celtics. He also closed with the game winning bucket.
Bjorkgren took a late timeout with the Pacers down needing a hero. It was pretty clear who he was going to.
On a beautiful play from the left wing, Sabonis took a strong drive to the hoop and drew a Robert Williams foul, finishing with contact. He ended up missing the free throw, but Celtics star Jayson Tatum couldn’t convert the potential game winning three-pointer on the other end.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) December 28, 2020
“We practiced that play in training camp,” Sabonis said. “It’s awesome to have that trust feeling from coach and to be doing some things we’re not used to. And it feels great to take advantage of it.”
Bjorkgren’s arrival to the 317 just felt different from the start.
The former Toronto Raptors assistant took his first job in the NBA D-League for no pay. And he worked his way up from the rock bottom. Not only does he have a great story for anyone to follow, but it’s a solid benchmark for his team.
His players seem to be adopting that mentality as well. At one point in his postgame press conference, Malcolm Brogdon called Bjorkgren a “genius”. The Pacers point guard went 11-for-20 from the field and scored 25 points on Sunday.
“We’ve got great coaching,” Brogdon said. “Coach Bjorkgren motivates us, is great with the X’s and O’s, and we feed off of him in every aspect of the game. One of his strengths is identifying what we’re not doing well and how to fix it. And he comes from a championship team and culture, which is huge for us.”
Other top Indiana performers over the weekend included Myles Turner with a combined 19 points, 12 rebounds, and nine blocks. Doug McDermott stepped up off the bench to score 28 total points and went 5-for-11 from beyond the arc.
The Pacers will put up their undefeated record in another duel with the Celtics at 7 PM on Tuesday. So far, so good if you ask Bjorkgren.
“This is a group that plays hard for each other no matter who is out on the floor,” Bjorkgren said. “I thought they were as active as they could be on the defensive end and they handled it very nicely.”
The new sense of energy around the Blue and Gold can go a long way as the season goes on. Bjorkgren brought up multiple times in his media availability that the players miss the fans immensely, as does he. With no fans in the stands for the next period of time, it’s going to be on the players to create their own momentum.
A 3-0 record isn’t too bad of a way to get that self-motivation started.