The first play-in game of the postseason felt a bit like a formality on Tuesday night.
The Indiana Pacers, even without Caris LeVert, had absolutely zero issue getting past the Charlotte Hornets to keep their postseason hopes alive.
The Pacers cruised to a dominant 144-117 win over the Hornets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, knocking Charlotte out of playoff contention and setting up a matchup with the Washington Wizards for the eighth seed on Thursday.
"Everybody's confidence is the highest it's been all year," Damontas Sabonis, who was just shy of a triple-double, said on TNT. "Obviously, we wish it was before, but this is the perfect timing for us."
Hot start from Doug McDermott, Pacers leads to blowout
The Pacers wasted little time on Tuesday night. After sitting in a 3-3 tie in the opening seconds, the Pacers never looked back.
Indiana opened the game on a massive 20-7 run behind an incredible shooting start from Doug McDermott, who dropped 14 of his 21 points in the first five minutes of the contest.
McDermott’s start, among other things, propelled the Pacers to a 24-point halftime lead — which they easily pushed to 31 in the opening minutes of the third quarter.
By that time, the game was more than over. Indiana rolled to the 27-point win without issue.
"This is something you learn from. All of us, including myself," Hornets coach James Borrego said, via WCCB's Kelli Bartik.
"They punched us in the mouth early and kept going."
Oshae Brissett led the Pacers with 23 points, and T.J. McConnell added 17 off the bench. Sabonis finished with 14 points and 21 rebounds, accounting for nearly half of the team’s rebounds in the game. As a team, the Pacers shot an impressive 55% from the field.
Miles Bridges led the Hornets with 23 points and eight rebounds while shooting 10-of-16 from the field. Cody Zeller added 17 off the bench, and Terry Rozier finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
LeVert, the Pacers' second-leading scorer, was ruled out of the game due to the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocol earlier Tuesday. It’s unclear what prompted him to land in the league’s protocols. However, he’s expected to remain there for 10 to 14 days, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
With the win, the Pacers will now take on the the Wizards for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington fell to the Boston Celtics 118-110 in their play-in game on Tuesday night.
Boston will now move into the No. 7 seed and take on the Brooklyn Nets in their opening-round series.
"I feel like we've been been playing better this month as a team," Sabonis said on TNT. "The ball's been moving, everybody's feeling it. To be honest it just depends on us and how strong we come out the next game."
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