If Friday’s preseason contest is any indication, Pacers rookie forward TJ Leaf is ready for the bright lights of the NBA stage.
Leaf, the 18th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, scored all 18 of his points in the fourth quarter to lead Indiana to a come-from-behind victory in Cleveland.
The Pacers trailed most of the night, but mounted a late charge. Down 10 with 6:37 to play, Leaf took over, draining three 3-pointers in a 1:56 stretch, the last one giving the Blue & Gold a 100-99 lead with 3:39 to play.
Leaf later added two free throws and then Al Jefferson’s layup capped a 17-2 Pacers run. Two Cavaliers free throws made it a three-point game with a minute to play, but Leaf sealed the victory with one final bucket, giving Indiana a 106-102 win.
“This is my second NBA game,” Leaf said after the victory. “It definitely gives me some confidence knowing if I play my role I can be successful.”
Leaf led Indiana in scoring, going 6-for-10 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range while also pulling down six rebounds.
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A couple hours earlier, Victor Oladipo gave the Pacers an early lead, scoring the game’s first four points. But it was all Cavaliers over the next several minutes, as the hosts reeled off a 19-1 run while holding Indiana without a field goal over a 6:19 stretch.
The Cavs used another 22-7 run spanning the end of the first and start of the second quarters to push their lead to 17 points and took a 59-48 lead into halftime.
The Pacers, however, remained within striking distance in the second half, setting the stage for Leaf and the second unit to rally past Cleveland’s reserves down the stretch.
Second-year forward Domantas Sabonis also had a solid game for Indiana, registering 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and seven rebounds. Oladipo added 14 points and five assists, while Lance Stephenson chipped in 13 points, four boards, and four assists.
Dwyane Wade, who signed with the Cavaliers on Sept. 27 after agreeing to a contract buyout with Chicago, was superb in the first half without his friend and running mate LeBron James (out with an ankle injury). Wade scored 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with five assists and three rebounds in just over 22 minutes of action.
Jae Crowder added 17 points and six rebounds for Cleveland, while Derrick Rose tallied 15 points and three assists.
Inside the Numbers
Pacers center Myles Turner finished with 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and three assists in just over 21 minutes.
Indiana outscored Cleveland 46-38 in points in the paint.
Aside from Leaf, the rest of the Pacers were just 5-for-24 from 3-point range. Bojan Bogdanovic was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc and Stephenson was 1-for-6.
The Pacers outscored the Cavaliers 58-43 after halftime and 28-16 in the fourth quarter. Leaf on his own tallied more points in the final 12 minutes than Cleveland did as a team.
You Can Quote Me On That
“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.” -Pacers head coach Nate McMillan
“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.” -McMillan on Leaf
“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.” -Leaf on playing through mistakes
“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.” -Stephenson
“Guys welcomed me with open arms. We all just fit. Everyone just fits – D Rose (Derrick Rose), Jae (Crowder) and everyone. We’re all, first of all, happy to be playing together. I think none of us can believe we are playing together still.” -Wade on developing chemistry with his new teammates
Stat of the Night
Led by Leaf and Sabonis, the Pacers’ bench outscored Cleveland’s reserves, 64-36.
- The Pacers are now 2-0 on the preseason, following Friday’s win and a 104-86 victory on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
- Indiana has two more exhibition games remaining: at Detroit on Monday night and home against Israeli club Maccabi Haifa on Tuesday.
- James has sat out both of Cleveland’s preseason contests with a sore left ankle.
The Pacers will tip off the 2017-18 regular season by hosting the Brooklyn Nets on Opening Night presented by Kroger on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 7:00 PM ET. Find Tickets »