Pacers bench hangs tough down stretch in 119-111 loss in preseason finale
INDIANAPOLIS -- There's only so much preseason success - or a lack of it - can say about an NBA team. But the way Indiana's second-unit fought and contended late into the fourth quarter against Minnesota on Tuesday night in the team's 119-111 loss in its preseason left essences of promise going into their eight-day break.
They did it with their bench playing all of the second half and hanging tough with Minnesota's starters, who played into the fourth quarter after opening a lead that ballooned to as much as 14 points in the second quarter. Coming out of the locker room, Indiana's second and third units came clawing back - led by the highly-anticipated debut of this summer's first-round pick Goga Bitadze.
>> The international prospect from Georgia finished tied for a team-high in scoring with 14 points, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, flashing a stretch-big repertoire that time-and-time again energized Pacers fans, but didn't come without mistakes.
Goga Bitazde, #88, is photographed during the Indiana Pacers Media Day, held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, on Friday, September 27, 2019. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar)
The 20-year-old, who missed the team's first three preseason games with an injured ankle, showed his youth in his inability, at times, to contend with the speed of the NBA game. Coach Nate McMillan said during Tuesday's shoot-around that would likely be the toughest part of the 6-11 forward's adjustment.
During his first offensive possession after entering the game for Myles Turner with 2:32 left in the first quarter, Bitadze simply wasn't ready for the pick-and-roll pass near the basket from Edmond Sumner that turned into one of the Pacers' 18 turnovers. The rookie reserve forward led the team with five turnovers to go with a team-high four personal fouls. He also struggled at times facing up with Timberwolves star post-man Karl-Anthony Towns, lagging off him on jumpers, often followed by McMillan's urging, "Get closer, he's a shooter!" Towns finished with a game-high 33 points in just over 26 minutes.
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But Bitadze lasted more than 20 minutes, a strong sign coming off just a couple days of full conditioning in practice this week. On offense, after getting his feet wet, he was active both inside and out, gliding to the post seamlessly, at times, on the pick-and-roll and equally unafraid to pop out to the 3-point line where he finished 2-for-3.
>>McMillan has been adamant that Aaron Holiday will get the backup point guard minutes this season as the team makes a point to develop its 2018 first-round pick as a competent option behind newly-acquired starter Malcolm Brogdon. But it's clear 27-year-old veteran T.J. McConnell will continue to challenge him.
The former 76ers guard closed out the first half with the starters, minus T.J. Warren, and helped the unit claw back from down nine midway through the second quarter, to within three, 51-48. He neared a double-double, finishing with 10 points and eight assists while playing the bulk of the second half. McConnell was the vocal leader he's promised to develop into, chiding the second unit when necessary and running an energetic offense that, at times, flowed very well and led by as many as four points in the second-half comeback.
>>Doug McDermott flashed his potential in as a burst of energy off the bench early in the second half, knocking down back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to give Indiana a 59-58 lead that helped keep the Pacers in the thick of things down to the final minutes. He finished with a team-high 14 points, tied with Bitadze.
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