The Indiana Pacers are still alive.
The No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference were dominant from start to finish against the Charlotte, ending the Hornets season in a 114-107 blowout.
Indiana will now move on to face either the Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards for a chance to secure the eighth seed in the East, while the young Hornets will go back to the drawing board after an impressive season comes to a close.
Let's jump to some of the takeaways from the first Play-In game of the 2021 postseason.
Already missing Myles Turner, T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb, the Pacers were dealt a harsh blow prior to tip, with Caris LeVert ruled out of the game due to health and safety protocols.
LeVert, who averaged 20.7 points per game across 35 appearances for the Pacers in 2020-21 has been rounding into form of late, topping 30 points on three separate occasions in the month of May.
While there were not too many negatives to report from the night, it would appear LeVert will be unavailable for Indiana's next Play-In game, which could prove critical in a matchup that is likely to be far more competitive.
Health has been a contributing factor all season long for the Pacers, with star duo Domantas Sabonis (quad) and Malcolm Brogdon (hamstring) also questionable heading into the game.
Brogdon finished with 16 points and eight assists in 21 minutes.
"When you're dealing with hamstring issues it can be dangerous so there is a bit of hesitation when you're out there.," Brogdon said. "Tonight I wasn't going to go for any rebounds in a crowd, I'm not jumping as high and consciously or unconsciously you are thinking of things to avoid but overall I felt good. I'm glad we got the win."
𝔸ℕ𝔻 𝟙 for @MalcolmBrogdon7 💥 pic.twitter.com/RsQYHTIjKd- Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 18, 2021
Brisset fills the void
22-year-old Canadian, Oshae Brissett has been asked to pick up the slack on multiple occasions this season, with his most important performance of the season coming when the Pacers needed it most.
Starting the last 16 games of the regular season as the above-mentioned raft of injuries took hold, Brissett has quietly become a reliable scoring option, reaching double digits in 12 of those outings.
Against the Hornets, it was an aggressive Brissett who finished the night as the Pacers' leading scorer with 23 points on an incredibly efficient 10-for-14 shooting.
"He's confident, he knows his role on the team. He stays in his lane and he's a great teammate," Brogdon said of Brissett. "He makes big shots, he plays the game the right way. I enjoy playing with guys who play the right way, both sides of the ball, make the extra pass."
The outing was the continuation of a remarkable rise, with the forward originally signing a 10-day contract with the Pacers in early April, impressing enough to receive a deal to see out the year with the club.
.@Obrissy showed out on the big stage 😛- Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 19, 2021
23 PTS | 5 REB | 2 AST | 10-14 FG pic.twitter.com/Ax6BjbEDb9
Sabonis overcomes frustration
Right from the outset, the Pacers outplayed, outhustled and outworked the Hornets.
Sabonis typified the Pacers attitude, working through an at-times frustrating night to register a 14 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists.
The All-Star big man cut a perplexed figure on multiple occassions throughout the game, seemingly confused at the lack of a whistle coming his way as he worked through contact around the basket. Despite only scoring 14 points, he did finish 7-for-13 from 2-point territory.
It was the third 20-rebound game of the season for Sabonis, who fell one shy of his season-best 22 against Phoenix in January. Overall, the Pacers outrebounded 54-36.
"We talked about [Charlotte] who has been in the top-10 for offensive rebounding nearly all year. In our regular season games against Charlotte they hurt us on the o-boards, they're a team that wants to get the offensive rebounds and kick it out for a three. Some of those plays hurt us in the regular season. We talked about it, we wanted to be very good at blocking out and that has to continue."
While the Play-In format was trialed in the bubble last season, tonight marked the first official Play-In Tournament game.
With that in mind, the Pacers created a little history, becoming the first team to win a win-or-go-home one-off game.
"It definitely energised us. I think any team playing in this format at this stage of the season is playing as hard as they can," Brogdon said. "I think Charlotte played as hard as they could, their shots didn't fall tonight and I thought we just played a better game. Both teams played hard and we were able to execute better down the stretch."
Finishing the season as the No.9 seed, the Pacers now give themselves the opportunity to move into the postseason bracket after finishing outside the traditional top eight seeds.
"Hopefully we can carry it over to the next game, because we know it's going to be even bigger because we are fighting for that last playoff spot," Pacers foward Doug McDermott said. "We know what's ahead of us, we can only control what we can control and that's getting better."
What's next for Charlotte?
While tonight's result was a disappointing one for the Hornets, the overall season brings great promise to the franchise.
Led by Rookie of the Year favourite LaMelo Ball, the Hornets have a bunch of promising young talent on the roster Head coach James Borrego was disappointed by the performance against the Pacers, but remained positive when taking in the big picture.
"These are the moments you learn from and you grow from. For all of us including myself. We got to get better and we will get better," Borrego said. "I'm proud of our guys overall, their effort this year. We put ourselves in this position and it's a great learning moment for everybody. Next time we're in this position we will respond and be better but obviously not the result or effort we needed or wanted tonight."
There's no question the season was a step in the right direction for a franchise that has perennially been stuck in the middle of the pack in the East.
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