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By Kevin Bowen

INDIANAPOLIS – With their season’s life on the line, the Pacers put up a clinical offensive performance to get them at least one more game this year.

Even with the unfortunate COVID news hitting Caris LeVert on Tuesday morning, Doug McDermott and the Indiana offense were in-sync from the opening tip.

A 40-point first quarter by the Pacers built a double-digit lead that stayed well above 20 for the majority of the game, resulting in a 144-117 thrashing of the No. 10 seeded Hornets.

With the win, Indiana will now head to either Boston or Washington on Thursday night at 8:00 PM, with the winner of that game claiming the 8th seed in the 2021 playoffs.

McDermott was incredible in Tuesday’s opening quarter, scoring 14 points in the first 5 minutes as the Pacers were tremendous from behind the arc.

Indiana did get Malcolm Brogdon back for the first time in 10 games. Brogdon scored 16 points (6-of-10 shooting) and handed out 8 assists in 21 minutes of work.

Domantas Sabonis scored just 2 points in Tuesday’s first half, but he ended the game with 14 points, 21 rebounds and 9 assists.

Oshae Brissett continued his amazing story to close out the year, scoring 23 points and grabbing 5 rebounds.

The Pacers hit 16-of-35 threes and had 35 assists.

Along with getting Brogdon back, Indiana also saw the returns of Edmond Sumner and Aaron Holiday. LeVert is expected to miss more than a week due to COVID protocols.

With the blowout, Indiana could rest Brogdon and Sabonis in the 4th quarter.

The winner of Thursday night’s matchup will have the 8th seed, and play the No. 1 seeded 76ers in Round One. The first game of that series will be Sunday in Philadelphia.

 

Three Things Learned

1. McDermott Ignites It: If Caris LeVert would have played on Tuesday night that would have likely pushed Doug McDermott back to his normal bench spot. But with LeVert’s unexpected absence, McDermott got the start and the Hornets looked like they had no idea he was on the floor. McDermott shredded the Hornets with tremendous shooting and timely cutting/finishing at the rim. Behind 14 McDermott points in the first 5 minutes, the lead was double-digits and it never shrunk below that again. That’s the dangerous thing about the Pacers having a duo like McDermott and Justin Holiday. They aren’t perfect players, but do have the ability to score 20 points on a given night. Just ask Charlotte. If this was Doug McDermott’s final game inside of Bankers Life Fieldhouse (he’s a free agent this offseason), what a way to go out.

2. LeVert Out Due To COVID: In only Pacers 2020-21 season fashion, Indiana found out on Tuesday morning that Caris LeVert is expected to miss a week-plus due COVID protocols. Nate Bjorkgren said before the game that LeVert was feeling fine, an indication that he is asymptomatic, if he indeed tested positive. What crushing news for LeVert after going through so much already this season. And obviously it’s a massive loss for Indiana. LeVert was the main scorer for this Indiana perimeter with Malcolm Brogdon out, and their definite go-to guy late in games. Could the Pacers win another play-in game without LeVert? Yes. But any hope in a 7-game series, with LeVert missing multiple games of said series, goes right out the window. Indiana is not expected to have Myles Turner (toe) on Thursday night.

3. Tougher Foe Awaits: No matter if it’s Boston or Washington, the Pacers will see much better competition on Thursday night as they need 1 more win to get into the playoffs. They’ll also hit the road, where Indiana did finish the year with the best record in the East. Both the Celtics and Wizards have guys with playoff experience and will have the best player on the floor comes Thursday. While Indiana has played better in the final two weeks of the season, seeing them string together consecutive performances like they’ll need on Thursday has not been there. The last time Indiana beat two different playoff caliber teams in back-to-back games was January, so we’ll see if they can ride the Tuesday momentum for another night.