If I told you that a player came off the bench, played 21 minutes, went 2-of-8 from the field and 1-of-7 from three, scored just nine points, and added two rebounds and four assists, what would you say?
Something along the lines of “that’s not a very good stat line, that’s the kind of thing that costs teams games,” I’d guess.
Well, in the words of Charlie Brown, tell your statistics to shut up, because that player is Victor Oladipo, that one three-point make was a monster of a clutch shot that sent the game to an overtime the Pacers dominated to beat the Bulls 115-106, and OH BY THE WAY VICTOR OLADIPO IS BACK.
I mean, JUST LOOK AT THIS.
— NBA (@NBA) January 30, 2020
First game back after over a year rehabbing an injury that had a lot of us in Pacer Nation worried that he’d never be the same, that his career was at risk, that a ruptured quad tendon was what ended Charles Barkley‘s career way back when…
…and he does that, then reacts like “yeah. Knew it as soon as it left my hand.”
The Pacers went 30-17 in his absence this year, as Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and T.J. Warren all made leaps into the tier of top-level NBA starters. Sabonis is a likely All-Star reserve after getting serious Sixth Man of the Year consideration last year and has a shot at Most Improved Player.
Brogdon would’ve been an All-Star if he could stay healthy.
And Warren? Well, how about 10-of-15 and 25 points as he led this team to victory with a little help from that Oladipo dagger?
And oh by the way, holding an opponent to 100 points in regulation and six in overtime despite the absence of Myles Turner, who missed the game due to illness?
That’s what having an All-Defensive player alongside the President in your backcourt buys you. When Oladipo is off his minutes restriction after the All-Star break, the Pacers will find themselves with the best defensive backcourt in the league.
They have the best rim protector in Turner. Sabonis has evolved as a defender to put up the best DBPM (at plus-2.4) of his career despite guarding starters when he used to guard reserves.
Ladies and gentlemen, clutch 3-pointers are great, but a team that now has all of its pieces back to where they can put a lineup out there to rival the mighty Milwaukee Bucks defensively?
VIC. IS. BACK.
“Great, Fox,” you might be saying, “but what if Oladipo airballed that clutch shot and the Pacers lost 100-97 at home to the lowly Chicago Bulls as your hero put up 6 points on 8 total shots while missing 7 threes?”
Well, besides “fire Nate McMillan”, which I’d say anyway no matter what happened because his endgame playcalling is atrocious and Warren took no shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter despite having the hot hand all game?
I’d say that at least it’s good to have a guy out there who’s not afraid to shoot big shots with the game on the line even though it’ll take him time to adjust to making them. I’d say that Turner is more important to this team than all the trade-Turner type fans will ever give him credit for.
But mostly I’d say that this team is still better off with a two-time All-Star and the emotional heart of the franchise than they were for a year without him.
The fact that he came back and needed about 47 minutes and 51 seconds to become the guy Pacers fans chant “MVP” at whenever he does something on the floor?
Well, that just makes everything a little sweeter.
It makes basketball less bittersweet after everything that happened on the weekend. It reminds us why we care so much about this stupid children’s game some dude cooked up in a gym to keep boys at the YMCA from getting bored in the wintertime.
And oh by the way, it puts four teams ahead of us in the standings on notice that we’ll be taking that 2 seed, thank you for keeping the seat warm.
Victor Oladipo is back. Go Pacers. Wakanda forever. And gods, do I love feeling confident that no one-possession game is lost until the final buzzer sounds as long as we’ve got Number Four taking the final shot.