Yeah, it's preseason, but Pacers eager to play before big home crowd, finally
INDIANAPOLIS – There were college basketball and NBA seasons in Indianapolis a year ago. Indeed, an entire NCAA tournament tipped off here nearly seven months ago.
But in a sport as intimate as this one, it all felt a little artificial. Something was missing during the pandemic: arenas filled with fans.
“I would say it was under-appreciated,” the Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner said. “It’s something you can’t take for granted.”
Beginning Wednesday night, all that changes. The Pacers have a new (old) coach, the fieldhouse has a new name, the NBA has a new season.
Granted, it is preseason. But for the first time in 581 days, the Pacers will play an actual game – against the Memphis Grizzlies – without limits on capacity.
Sunday’s Fan Jam and scrimmage at Gainbridge Fieldhouse were fun. Wednesday will be genuine.
“It’s an early symbol of normalcy, which I think warms everyone’s heart,” said Rick Carlisle, who left the Dallas Mavericks for a second tenure as Indiana's head coach. “We’re not really back to normal yet in the world of COVID and all that kind of stuff. But we’re inching closer.
“The interaction with the fans is something everyone missed last year. As the year went on, we had more fans in our building in Dallas, and we had them for the playoffs. It was just great, just great.
“Indiana basketball fans are as good as it gets. So we’re really looking forward to having them back in here and being able to play in front of them.”
The Pacers haven’t played at home under conventional circumstances since March 10, 2020.
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On that night, the Boston Celtics erased the Pacers’ 19-point lead and won 114-111. Jayson Tatum scored 30 points and Gordon Hayward 27 for the Celtics, and Domantas Sabonis 28 and Victor Oladipo 27 for the Pacers. Announced crowd was 17,053.
How long ago was that?
Hayward is now in Charlotte, Oladipo is in Miami (after a stop in Houston), then Celtics-coach Brad Stevens is in the front office, and then-Pacers coach Nate McMillan was two coaches ago.
The Pacers didn’t play again until Aug. 1, 2020, in the Florida bubble.
Among those embracing fans is Pacers rookie Chris Duarte, who until an NCAA tournament game March 22 did not play before them all season. As it turns out, he played in his future NBA home, scoring 23 points to lead Oregon over No. 2 seed Iowa 95-80 at then-Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We never had fans in Oregon, Pac-12,” Duarte said.
“I like the fans, you know. It kind of hypes you up a little bit, makes me play harder.”
No reunion for Butler Bulldogs
Preseason might have matched former Butler teammates Sean McDermott of the Grizzlies against Kelan Martin of the Pacers. However, McDermott has a knee injury and Martin is out with a hamstring injury.
Martin is trying to make the roster for a third NBA season.
“It’s a health issue first and business issue second, third or fourth, really,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to make sure he’s healthy. He’s young. He’ll bounce back here.”
The Pacers were already without three other injured wings: Justin Holiday (ankle), Caris LeVert (back) and T.J. Warren (foot). The Pacers also ruled out point guard Malcolm Brogdon with a grade 1 left AC sprain.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.