Sabonis leads Pacers past Hornets 144-117 in play-in round

  • Indiana Pacers' Doug McDermott (20) and Domantas Sabonis (11) react during the first half of the team's NBA basketball Eastern Conference play-in game against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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.

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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.

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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.”

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