When your star player goes down, someone must step up. Victor Oladipo went out after 4 minutes with a left knee injury and it was rookie Aaron Holiday stepping up with the first meaningful minutes of his career as the Pacers defeated the Atlanta Hawks 97-89 Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Oladipo (day-to-day) was only able to contribute with two points, and Tyreke Evans and Holiday both had increased minutes in Oladipo’s absence. “It’s really next man up in that situation,” said coach Nate McMillan. “He’s been working hard every day during the season to keep himself ready to go.” It was an unfortunate moment for the Pacers, but one that Holiday was ready for. “I had a conversation with him today, not knowing that Vic would be out…he was ready for it. We don’t win without him.”
The Pacers’ offense struggled early in finding their game, and Atlanta took advantage with its fast pace offense, although the game remained close in the first half, neither team able to manage more than a four-point lead. However, after taking their own four-point lead with 2:48 remaining in the first half, the Pacers’ offense stalled, and Atlanta took advantage with an 11-point run to end the half with a nine-point lead.
The Hawks came out with an early five-point run in the third to increase the lead to 12 points, forcing the Pacers to call a timeout with 10:50 remaining in the third. “I told Aaron to be ready,” said McMillan. “I needed to give those guys a breather, so we went deeper into the bench.” It was also a moment where the players spoke to themselves.
The Pacers had the lead whittled down to two points with three minutes remaining in the third quarter when assistant coach Dan Burke was called for a technical foul after a Cory Joseph foul.
Kevin Huerter missed the free throw and Domantas Sabonis found Holiday behind the arc for the go-ahead three-point basket. “He shot that with confidence,” said McMillan. “It was something that I had seen before. Holiday finished the game with career highs in minutes (15), points (12), assists (2), three-point field goals made (3), and rebounds (3). “It’s always good to see your first shot go down,” said Holiday. “I was happy to get that going, and it was all downhill from there.”
Despite a slow start, and getting in foul trouble early, Domantas Sabonis tied career highs with 16 rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes of play. “He solid,” said McMillan. “He finished for us…I want our guys to remain aggressive when they pick up two fouls…he never softens up…he was the five that we finished with. He anchored the offense and the defense in the fourth quarter.”
Indiana held Atlanta to 33 points on 30 percent from the field in the second half and just 17 points in the fourth quarter. Both were season lows for Atlanta. “We picked up the energy defensively,” said Joseph. “I felt like we kind of turned the tables on them (in the second half).
With this win, the Pacers (10-6) have now won two in a row, and four in a row against Atlanta. They’re now a game and a half behind division-leading Milwaukee bucks. This was the first meeting of the season between the two teams, and they’ll meet three more times this season, next on Dec. 26 in Atlanta.