3 takeaways from Pacers’ obliteration of Hornets in first NBA play-in game

Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers

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The Indiana Pacers wiped the floor with the Charlotte Hornets in the first play-in game before the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Here are the three biggest takeaways.

The 2021 NBA Playoffs are nearly here, but before they begin, the league is giving four teams in each conference their shot at filling the final two playoff-spots for the West and the East.

Tuesday’s showdown between the ninth-place Indiana Pacers and 10th-place Charlotte Hornets kicked off the play-in tournament, with the winner getting a chance to compete for the 8-seed and the loser going home. Unfortunately for the Hornets, it was a total blowout from start to finish.

In a 144-117 rout, the Pacers earned the right to face the loser of Tuesday night’s game between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards for the 8-seed. Charlotte, meanwhile, is heading home for the offseason.

If this game wasn’t over by the end of the first quarter, when the Pacers built a 40-24 lead, it was certainly done by halftime after they extended the lead to 24 points. All five Indiana starters scored in double figures, including 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from Doug McDermott and 14 points, 21 rebounds and 9 assists from Domantas Sabonis. The Hornets were led by Miles Bridges’ 23 points, Terry Rozier’s 16 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, and Cody Zeller’s 17 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting off the bench.

Here are the three biggest takeaways from this thoroughly one-sided affair.

3. Young Hornets not prepared for a playoff environment

The Hornets were outplayed in nearly every facet of the game. The 3-point discrepancy was most noticeable, as Indiana — a team that averaged 12.3 3-point makes per game on 34 percent shooting during the regular season — drained 16 triples on 35 attempts, shooting 45.7 percent from distance. Charlotte, meanwhile, went 12-for-40 (30 percent).

It just felt like the Hornets weren’t fully prepared for the increase in intensity and the need to pay better attention to details. While they carried on like it was a regular-season matchup, the Pacers took it to them without letting up — even with Domantas Sabonis struggling early on.

The age disparity here may have been the biggest difference. While this Indiana squad has played in postseason games before, 59 percent of all minutes logged by the Hornets this year were played by first-, second- or third-year players — the second-highest percentage in the NBA, trailing only the tank-tastic Oklahoma City Thunder.

It was a brutal introduction to postseason basketball, but this should serve as a good learning experience for LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Devonte’ Graham, PJ Washington, Malik Monk and the rest of this young core moving forward.

2. Oshae Brissett is making a name for himself

With Caris LeVert out due to health and safety protocols, Oshae Brissett stepped into the startling lineup. For anyone worried about how the Pacers would fare without LeVert, Brissett provided some extremely encouraging results.

Finishing with a team-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the floor and 3-of-6 shooting from the field, Brissett was an absolute flamethrower for Indiana, and one Charlotte clearly didn’t see coming.

Brissett started the year in the G League, but now he’s making a name for himself in this playoff environment. This wasn’t some one-off performance for the 22-year-old wing either; he’s been playing heavy minutes for the Pacers over the last month, averaging 13.3 points and 7.1 rebounds in 30.9 minutes per game on .469/.421/.758 shooting splits in 16 games over that span. In fact, in the Pacers’ regular-season finale, he provided a preview for the play-in round, dropping a career-high 31 points and 10 boards on the Toronto Raptors.

LeVert being out for 10-14 days certainly hurts, but if this is the version of Oshae Brissett the Pacers are getting, they might be just fine.

1. Pacers are coming in hot for that 8-seed

The Pacers didn’t have Caris LeVert, and they’ve spent most of the season without the league’s leading shot-blocker in Myles Turner and one of the most electric scorers from the NBA bubble in T.J. Warren. None of that seemed to matter Tuesday night, and if the Pacers play like this again on Thursday, they’ll easily secure the 8-seed in the East.

What was most remarkable is how dominant Indiana looked despite Sabonis’ early struggles. While his final stat line looked beastly, the Pacers’ best player struggled to get in a rhythm early on, failing to draw fouls and starting the game off 1-for-8 from the floor.

But he got into a rhythm in that third quarter, going 6-for-7 from the field to ensure there would be no comeback attempt, and Indiana’s hot shooting — particularly from McDermott and T.J. McConnell in the first half — put Charlotte in an early hole and kept them there.

After such a merciless onslaught, don’t sleep on this team no matter who they’re facing in the second play-in game.

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