T.J. Leaf Leads the Indiana Pacers to a 2-0 Preseason Record

Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
[Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports]

The Indiana Pacers trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers for most of the night, but a second-half comeback led by T.J. Leaf put them on top in the end as they came away with a 106-102 victory. To put Leaf’s impact into perspective, all 18 of his points came in the fourth quarter, and he outscored the Cavaliers by 2 points. As a result, Indiana now has a 2-0 record to start the 2017-18 preseason.

Game Summary

Cleveland quickly took control of this game mainly because Indiana couldn’t convert on any of their shot attempts. At the 4:49 mark of the first quarter, the Cavaliers were up 19-5, and they finished the opening quarter on top with a 32-21 advantage. The starting unit for the Pacers failed to follow up their impressive performance in Milwaukee. It was a real struggle for Indiana to put the ball in the basket and it looked like they were in for a long night.

The Pacers used the second quarter to keep it close heading into halftime. They outscored Cleveland by a narrow 27-26 margin to end the half, and that translated to a 59-48 lead for the Cavaliers. The third quarter was also close with Indiana closing it out by outscoring Cleveland 30-27, which cut the deficit to just 8 points heading into the fourth quarter. The score was 86-78 with Cleveland still maintaining their lead.

It was a completely different story in the fourth quarter. No longer were the Pacers just keeping it close and not making dents in the deficit. Leaf knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers with one coming at the 4:06 mark and the other with 3:39 left in the game and that gave the Pacers their first lead since there was 9:22 remaining in the first quarter. The Pacers never gave up their lead for the duration of the game after Leaf put them ahead. He went on to score 4 of the team’s final 6 points to ensure a victory.

Full Game Highlights

Playing Time Tracker

Indiana Pacers: The same starting lineup consisting of Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner that was used in their preseason opener against the Milwaukee Bucks was used in this game. The players that received at least five minutes off the bench were Lance Stephenson, Damien Wilkins, T.J. Leaf, Cory Joseph, Domantas Sabonis, Al Jefferson, Joseph Young, and Alex Poythress.

Ben Moore and Jarrod Uthoff did not receive any playing time as they gave three minutes to DeQuan Jones instead. Edmond Sumner and Trey McKinney-Jones are both still injured and missed their second consecutive games. Ike Anigbogu is still working on his conditioning, so he did not see any game action either. Also, Glenn Robinson III was also out for this game as he will be for a little less than the next two months with a severely sprained ankle.

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas did not play in this game, which obviously made their starting lineup noticeably different than what it will be when the team is healthy. Their starting unit was Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, J.R. Smith, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love. Their bench group was featured ten players that all played over five minutes with nine of them playing at least for 12 minutes.

Individual Performances

T.J. Leaf: What more can I say? Leaf genuinely impressed me tonight. His statistics were 18 points (60% FG, 80% 3P, 100% FT) and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes. The first three quarters were genuinely bad for Leaf as he had 0 points on 0/3 shooting from the field. He was consistently a negative piece on the defensive end of the floor where he struggled in the trenches with physicality and with containing dribble penetration from the perimeter. The fourth quarter was a completely different story, and he won them the game.

Domantas Sabonis: The Lithuanian had 17 points (75% FG, 50% 3P, 66.7% FT), seven rebounds, one assist, and two blocks in 19 minutes of action. He took care of businesses on the defensive end of the floor against one the Eastern Conference’s top frontcourt players in Kevin Love. However, there were still sequences against big centers that showed that he still needs to continue to add functional strength to handle those types of assignments. He provided an ideal complementary offensive impact, and that’s precisely what’s needed from him.

Victor Oladipo: 14 points (50% FG, 33.3% 3P, 50% FT), 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, and 4 turnovers in 23 minutes. While it’s just preseason, I think it’s important for there to be high expectations and standards of evaluation for Oladipo because of his importance to the franchise. I believe that something that he needed to prove was that he could consistently knock down open perimeter jump shots and to be an efficient volume scorer, which he has failed to do so far through two preseason games. It’s still way too early to make any conclusions, though.

Myles Turner: It wasn’t the best game from Myles as he only had 12 points (50% FG, 0% 3P, 100% FT), one rebound, three assists, one steal, two blocks, and two turnovers in 21 minutes of action. He wasn’t a factor on the glass in this game, but he managed to put up a double-figure scoring performance with some facilitation and defensive playmaking. There isn’t a need to see much from Turner during the preseason because if he’s not getting a ton of involvement as a playmaker because there’s nothing for him to prove.

Lance Stephenson: “Born Ready” produced 13 points (25%, 16.7% 3P, 66.7% FT), 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in 28 minutes. His scoring efficiency was quite poor because he failed to convert on his perimeter jump shots consistently, but he made a strong impact as a rebounder, facilitator, and as a defender. Lance’s impact as a primary ball handler should not go unnoticed because he created a lot of offensive sequences that led to good shots. He continued to look like a great fit for Indiana’s sixth man role.

Thaddeus Young: It was a strong statistical performance for Young as he had 9 points (66.7% FG, 50% FT), eight rebounds, one assist, two steals, and one turnover in 21 minutes. He was a genuine swiss army knife in this game because he had great versatility and did what was needed of him. He may not have had a double-figure scoring night, but he made a substantial impact on the boards and made his presence felt on the defensive end of the court. We know what he will be asked to do during the regular season and he did exactly that tonight.

Darren Collison: There weren’t a whole lot of opportunities to create with the ball in the 22 minutes that Collison played, but he still had 4 points (66.7% FG), three rebounds, four assists, and one steal. Darren has been a terrific complementary player for the Pacers so far in the preseason whether it has been with cohesive scoring, rebounding, or facilitation within the flow of the game. It may not show up in the box score, but his defense has been much better than I expected so far in the two matches of preseason basketball that he has played.

Cory Joseph: It was a rough shooting night for Joseph, but he managed to make an impact in other ways. He produced 5 points (14.3% FG, 0% 3P, 100% FT), three rebounds, five assists, two steals, one block, and two turnovers over the course of 21 minutes. While he didn’t score the ball well in this game at all, he did make a legitimate impact on defense and in critical nuances of the game. There isn’t anything for him to prove because we all know that he is going to provide a significant cohesive complementary impact alongside Lance Stephenson with the bench unit.

Al Jefferson: When the team needed clutch offense, Jefferson converted on a shot near the basket to help ensure a victory for the Pacers. He did play only 8 minutes and had 2 points (100% FG), three rebounds, one assist, one steal, and one turnover. The first preseason game didn’t go well for “Big Al, ” but he did have a legitimately positive display in this game. While he didn’t show that he is any less of a defensive liability than he was last season, Jefferson did do what was needed of him in the few minutes that he played.

Bojan Bogdanovic: It was another rough performance by Bogdanovic. He was on the court for 17 minutes, and he had 3 points (20% FG, 0% 3P, 50% FT), one rebound, and two assists. If he isn’t knocking down jump shots, then it is nearly impossible for him to be a positive for his team and that’s how it was tonight for him. Outside of his inefficient scoring, he struggled overall on defense and failed to make a legitimate impact in the nuances of the game.

Damien Wilkins: Wilkins didn’t follow up his strong preseason debut with a good game. He played the second most minutes behind only Lance Stephenson with 25 minutes of playing time. He had 2 points (16.7% FG, 0% 3P), 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Glenn Robinson III’s absence was felt tonight because neither Wilkins or Bogdanovic came close to having an acceptable individual performance. While the Pacers do need wing depth, he can’t make these types of performances into being a habit.

Inside the Numbers

Scoring Efficiency: The scoring efficiency numbers were close for both teams. Indiana shot 39-of-83 (47%) from the field, 9-of-29 (31%) on 3-pointers, and 19-of-27 (70.4%) on free throws. On the other side, Cleveland shot 40-of-87 (46%) from the field, 9-of-29 (31%) on 3-pointers, and 13-of-22 (59.1%) on free throws. What won the Pacers the game was their superior efficiency from the free throw line considering how both teams had identical production from the perimeter and that Indiana was better from the field by the smallest of margins.

Dwyane Wade led the Cavaliers with a game-high 20 points. Wade was followed by Jae Crowder  (17) and Derrick Rose (15), and they were the only other double-digit scorers for the Cavaliers. T.J. Leaf produced a team-high 18 points for the Pacers and was joined by Domantas Sabonis (17), Victor Oladipo (14), Lance Stephenson (13), and Myles Turner (12) as the team’s other double-digit scorers. There were a lot of poor individual scoring performances on both teams, and that’s a good indicator that it’s still preseason basketball.

Rebounding: The Cavaliers held the advantage in rebounding as they had 51 total rebounds with 12 of them being on the offensive glass. The Pacers were held to just seven offensive rebounds and only 34 defensive rebounds overall. Nobody in the game played long enough to reach double-digit rebounding totals, but Thaddeus Young and Tristan Thompson led their teams with eight rebounds. Indiana struggled to control Cleveland on the boards in the first half, but they did just enough not to let this area of the game turn what was a win into a loss.

Ball Control: While Cleveland handled their business on the boards, Indiana won the battle of ball control. The Pacers had 14 total turnovers and allowed 13 points off turnovers while the Cavaliers had 19 turnovers and allowed 20 points off turnovers. Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade led their team’s in turnovers with four each. Indiana will need to make it a part of their identity to win the turnover battle consistently, and they certainly did that to a sufficient extent.

Facilitation: Without even looking at the box score, the Pacers appeared to have good ball movement, and that was also apparent in the team’s first preseason game too. They had 27 assists, and that was just two more than Cleveland. Victor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, and Kevin Love each had a game-high five assists. Both teams were moving the ball well, and that has become a pattern for Indiana. However, I would have liked to have seen Myles Turner featured more in their offense as a playmaker.

Defensive Playmaking: Indiana had 11 steals and four blocks compared to Cleveland’s eight steals and three blocks. Myles Turner and Ante Zizic both had two blocks, which was the most for their teams. Regarding steals, Kevin Love led the Cavaliers with three while Thaddeus Young, Cory Joseph, and Victor Oladipo tied as Indiana’s leader with two steals. The Pacers will need to continue to frequently force turnovers as a unit because this is one of the leading areas where they have the potential to have an advantage consistently.

Quote Analysis

Nate McMillan on the Bench: “I thought our second unit came in and showed a lot of fight and they kept working and they were able to pull out a win.”

Analysis: Indiana’s bench unit put together a sufficient performance to win the game, which is a phrase that hasn’t been able to be said very often in recent seasons. With all of the starters being done for the day, the Pacers’ bench outscored the Cavaliers by a 28-16 margin in the fourth quarter.

Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson, and Glenn Robinson III, the Pacers will have by far the best backup perimeter that they’ve had in a long time. The likely production of their backup frontcourt is mainly unknown, but if they come close to their potential, the bench as a whole will be in a terrific place.

Lance Stephenson on the Learning Process: “Our goal is to get better every game and learn each other. There’s going to be games where the starters won’t play as well, and there’s going to be games where we (bench) don’t play as good, we just need to pick each other up and stay focused.”

Analysis: Patience is key, and Stephenson understands that. While it’s just preseason, the Pacers had good production from their starting unit while their bench group failed to build off of it. In their second game, their starting unit had a poor performance while the bench did well enough to win the game. Inconsistency should be expected with a very young backup frontcourt.

T.J. Leaf on Handling Mistakes: “That is what a lot of the vets have been talking about too, even the upper management. I’m going to have a lot of ups and downs, and I’m going to have to learn how to play through them.”

Analysis: Leaf played seven consecutive quarters of lousy basketball until the final quarter of this game. It says a lot about him as a player that he was confident enough to fight through that adversity and to remain mentally sharp enough to provide a high-level of an offensive impact to provide his team with a win ultimately.

Nate McMillan on T.J. Leaf: “It was good to see him knock down some shots and stay aggressive. We drew up a play for him, and he came off and nailed that three, so that was a big shot. A very confident kid, and that’s how we want him to play, don’t worry about mistakes, stay aggressive and play the game, and I thought he did that.”

Analysis: I would like to see the Pacers continue to dish the ball to Leaf out on the perimeter for catch-and-shoot attempts through the flow of the game. Since he will be a negative on the defensive side of the ball for at least his rookie season due to his lack of strength to bang down low and his lack of foot speed to contain dribble penetration, he will need to be an efficient complementary scorer.

Next Game

The Indiana Pacers (2-0) will face off against the Detroit Pistons (1-1) on Monday at 7:00 P.M. EST at Little Ceasars Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

About Grant Afseth 373 Articles
Grant Afseth is the lead Indiana Pacers writer for and founder of Indiana Sports Coverage.