Pacers lose, but Leaf shines

By TYLER SMITH (@TylerSmith_ISL)
ISL Editor

Rookie T.J. Leaf scored 17 points against Portland on Friday night. (Photo by Pacers Sports and Entertainment)

Rookie T.J. Leaf scored 17 points against Portland on Friday night.
(Photo by Pacers Sports and Entertainment)

INDIANAPOLIS —  The Indiana Pacers are in a transition season.  It will be a season filled with obstacles, slumps, and at times, frustration.  With that said, not every loss will be equal.  Not every loss will mean progress wasn’t made.

Take Friday night against Portland, for example.  Playing without Myles Turner, the Pacers fell short to a good Blazers team, by a final score of 114-96 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.  It was an ugly game filled with poor defense, but Pacer fans should still feel some optimism after this loss.  The reason?  Rookie T.J. Leaf.

Leaf scored 17 points in just 19 minutes off the Pacers bench, tying Victor Oladipo for the team-high.  In one sequence, Leaf showed his inside game, mid-range game, and 3-point range in a matter of minutes.  He shot 7-of-11 on the night, including 2-of-3 from behind the arc.

“We know on offense he can do a lot of things,” said Pacers Coach Nate McMillan. “It was good to see him come out with a lot of confidence.  We’ll bring him along slowly and we think he’ll gradually improve.”

In addition to the 17 points, Leaf also grabbed four rebounds, had one assist, and didn’t turn the ball over.  The Pacers were just minus-1 with him on the floor, compared to minus-17 when he was on the bench.

Leaf is a confident player, and it showed.  “I was just playing basketball,” Leaf said. “I didn’t have a great first game, but my confidence is still high.  My teammates have confidence in me, and I think that’s where it comes from.”

“He played really well today,” teammate Victor Oladipo said. “The sky is the limit for him. He is so young.  We have a really young team when you think about it.”

Longtime Pacers writer Mark Montieth says Leaf looks like another Gordon Hayward in the making.  I have drawn comparisons between Leaf and Keith Van Horn.  The reality is- If T.J. Leaf is even close to either of those two players, the Pacers got a steal with the 18th pick in the NBA Draft.

Just like the Pacers team itself, there will be ups and downs this year for Leaf.  It would be unrealistic to expect this kind of effort from him every night.  But the talent is clearly there, and games like this are a win for the Pacers no matter what the scoreboard says.



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