Pacers season highlights: Aaron Holiday’s coming out party

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 17: Aaron Holiday #3 of the Indiana Pacers reacts after a play in the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 17, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 17: Aaron Holiday #3 of the Indiana Pacers reacts after a play in the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on November 17, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Aaron Holiday didn’t get much of a chance in the Indiana Pacers rotation until one fateful night.

The first 15 games of the Indiana Pacers season did not feature much of Aaron Holiday.

The Pacers were rolling. They were 9-6 and had won 4 of their last 6 games when they hit mid-November. Victor Oladipo averaged 24 points per game during that stretch, and the team looked like they were going to be as good as everyone thought before the season started.

Unfortunately, one pitfall of a deep roster that is winning games is that rookies and young players are strangled out of the rotation. TJ Leaf, Holiday, Alize Johnson, and Edmond Sumner were all sparingly playing. They could get on the floor in garbage time, but outside of that they were limited to practice reps and learning through veteran mentorship.

The next game on the Pacers schedule was at home against the Atlanta Hawks, who were 3-12 at the time. The game was supposed to be an easy win for the superior Pacers anyway.

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But Victor Oladipo’s knee was sore, and he was questionable for the game. That gave it some intrigue. Would Vic play, or would he not? Give the low quality of the Pacers opponent, most assumed (or hoped?) that he would sit this game out and get his body right.

But Oladipo played, and less than 5 minutes into the game he had a hard fall which aggravated his already sore knee. The Pacers pulled him from the game and shortened their rotation for the remainder of the first half.

It turns out, without Vic the pesky Hawks were good enough to hand around. The 2nd and 3rd quarters were pretty back and forth, and the Pacers found themselves down 67-65 with 3:14 to go in the fourth quarter.

The guard rotation had been reduced to just Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans. The sliced rotation meant that those 3 players were fatigued, and they needed rest for the stretch run in the 4th quarter. In order to get them that rest, Nate McMillan made the decision to give Aaron Holiday his crack at the Pacers rotation in his career.

The hope was that the Indiana Pacers could simply survive these minutes. Rookie point guards are usually ineffective, and Aaron Holiday said after his first game (in which he only played garbage time) that he felt jittery. There were reasons to believe Holiday was nervous and would play poorly out of his comfort zone.

Those nerves were quickly exiled. On the Pacers second possession of Holiday’s stint, he calmly trotted up the floor and drained this 3-pointer in semi-transition:

That was Holiday’s second make of his entire career. To even have the confidence to take that shot shows the gall that Holiday possesses. Thankfully, that was just the beginning of the rookies coming out party.

The game continued to be a battle.  The 1 point lead that Aaron Holiday gave the Pacers maintained itself through the end of the 3rd quarter and the first two minutes of the 4th. Somehow, this game that was supposed to be a cakewalk had become a battle.

But Holiday wanted to show that he could make an impact when it mattered. With a 1 point lead early in the 4th, the kid let it fly again:

And then, two possessions later, again, only this time he took it into the teeth of the D:

The last two clips both featured Myles Turner reactions the perfectly encapsulated the moment. Every Holiday bucket filled the gym with excitement and breathed life into the gym. Oladipo got hurt 2 quarters earlier. The Indiana Pacers star and the soul of the team had become injured, yet the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse were roaring watching a rookie explode in his first meaningful minutes.

And after scoring 8 points in 6 minutes, he wasn’t done yet.

The Pacers were in the midst of a 6-2 run to take an 8 point lead with a shade over 4 minutes to go. The kid dropped the hammer on the Hawks:

The announcer summed it up perfectly. “Amazing”. The night was Aaron’s.

Aaron Holiday would later hit a free throw, which made his final stat line 12 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists. Almost more impressively — he played the final 15:14 of the game without being subbed out even for a second. He had played 16:06 in total before this game. This time, he closed out a victory that he was a crucial part of.

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The Holiday breakout was a rush of emotions. It was sad seeing Victor Oladipo get hurt. But it created hope, seeing a rookie explode onto the scene gave everyone a feeling that this team had something special. And most importantly, it was fun, both seeing the Pacers win and seeing a young player emerge. The Holiday experience has just begun.