INDIANAPOLIS – Domantas Sabonis delivered. He found open teammates, cleaned up the glass and played solid defense.
The combination helped keep Indiana's playoff hopes alive — for at least two more nights.
Sabonis had 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists, and the short-handed Pacers routed the Charlotte Hornets 144-117 in the Eastern Conference’s first play-in game Tuesday.
“He’s a point forward and sometimes when you're a point guard you have to score more and sometimes you have to assist more and make the right plays," coach Nate Bjorkgren said. “That's what I thought he was doing tonight. He was passing, hitting cutters, making the right play. He wants to make the right play."
Sabonis' reaction to the Hornets' attempt to clog the middle changed the game. Doug McDermott scored 16 of his 21 points in the first quarter as the Pacers started 7 of 11 from 3-point range — a decisive flurry that put Charlotte in a big hole.
The ninth-seeded Pacers snapped a franchise-worst nine-game losing streak in the postseason, earning their first win since blowing out Cleveland in Game 6 of a first-round series in April 2018. And they got it done without Caris LeVert, who was placed in the league's health and safety protocol before the game.
Now Indiana needs one more win to secure a sixth consecutive playoff appearance. The Pacers visit No. 8 Washington on Thursday night.
“Everybody got going," said Malcolm Brogdon, who scored 16 points in his first game since April 29. “It's the best when all your teammates get to score and have fun. I thought we had fun tonight and that was the best part."
It was no fun for the Hornets, who were led by Miles Bridges with 23 points. Former Indiana University star Cody Zeller had 17.
The Hornets finished the season with six straight losses. The difference Tuesday showed right from the start — playoff experience.
“They played like a veteran group," Charlotte coach James Borrego said. “They played like a tougher group that had been here before. They weren’t fazed by the moment."
McDermott led the initial charge as Indiana continually beat Charlotte to loose balls and stayed in front of the Hornets on defense. The Pacers jumped out to a 23-9 lead, which they extended to 40-24 after one, 69-45 at halftime and 76-45 early in the third quarter.
Led by Sabonis, the Pacers never trailed.
“There are many ways to impact the game and as one of the leaders you have to do that," Sabonis said. “So I was setting up teammates, passing, playing defense. We were up 20 early and we just kept building the lead."
Hornets: Terry Rozier had 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Malik Monk added 13 points. ... LaMelo Ball had 14 points and four rebounds in his postseason debut. ... The Hornets went 12 for 40 from deep. ... Charlotte's last postseason win came in April 2016 when it beat Miami. ... The Hornets have lost three straight postseason games when they could have advanced.
Pacers: Oshae Brissett scored 23 points while T.J. McConnell had 17 points, five rebounds and four steals. ... Goga Bitadze added 14 points and 10 rebounds. ... McDermott has scored in double figures in a career-best 14 straight games. ... Indiana was 14 of 31 on 3s and shot 55.2% from the field overall. ... The Pacers have won four of their last six. ... Indiana had the best regular-season road record in the East, 21-15.
The Pacers won despite missing LeVert, starting center Myles Turner (right foot), starting forward T.J. Warren (left foot) and key backup Jeremy Lamb (left knee). Charlotte played without Gordon Hayward (sprained right foot) and Cody Martin (sprained left ankle).
HE SAID IT
“In a 30-point loss, nothing goes right," Zeller said. “They came out and punched us in the mouth. They were the more aggressive team and played with a lot of energy.”
The Pacers travel to Washington to face the Wizards on Thursday, with the winner claiming the East's final playoff spot. Charlotte heads home for the offseason.
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