Indiana Pacers: Keifer Sykes makes his NBA debut

Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

With two minutes and forty-four seconds into the first quarter, Keifer Sykes made his NBA debut for the Indiana Pacers, one day before his 28th birthday.

Skyes averaged 16 points per game with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and led the G-League in assists per game with 8. Here is a look into his first game with the Indiana Pacers.

Sykes spent most of his first-quarter minutes playing defense. He attempted just one shot from the field but unfortunately, it didn’t fall.

The first glimpse we see of his defensive ability was him being able to close out on the considerably larger Cody Martin towards the end of quarter one.

His hands stay active while Martin tries to drive to the lane, but he shifts to take away that space. After Sykes cuts off the drive, Martin is forced to take a tougher shot late in the shot-clock. Great awareness from Sykes.

Skyes was rather active on the floor with his full-court defense – similar to one of his teammates, T.J. McConnell. He played with that jolt for most of the game – he seemed to be the first guy there to help a teammate up off the floor each time he could.

I know defense isn’t the most flashy thing to talk about unless your name is Myles Turner. Sykes filled in for LeVert just fine to start the game.

In his first five minutes of play, he was 0/3 from the field and had two fouls – I’m sure the jitters were there for Sykes. However, he was able to create some shots for his teammates.

Shortly after those missed shot attempts, he was able to dish out two assists, one being a pass to Chris Duarte for three. Albeit, Duarte was calling for the ball which humored me in the moment.

Keifer finished the first half playing just over six minutes – a +3 in that time. While he didn’t score, he maintained a positive impact and set up a couple of teammates to score, which is what he is there to do.

The Indiana Pacers as a team however did not do well defensively – giving up 71 points to the Charlotte Hornets and trailing by 14 points at halftime.

Caris LeVert led the Pacers in scoring at halftime with 16 points and 2 assists. For Sykes, he missed all four of his shot attempts, each one so close to going in.

You can hear Pacers fans in the building get excited when he shoots, waiting to see his first NBA points. I believe this shot in the corner was his best look all night, just, unfortunately, didn’t get it to fall.

Quinn Buckner was adamant about him shooting here.

I had the privilege to talk to Sykes earlier this season when he was with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. He told me about being ready for the challenge of NBA-level basketball and that if he could get the opportunity, he would be ready.

“It’s special for me to be a part of. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time, but it’s a challenge – I have to perform well and I love the challenge”. 

The Pacers were making a comeback throughout the third quarter against the Hornets – they finished the quarter with the game score at 90-82, Hornets lead.

Sykes did not play during the third. However, to start the fourth quarter, he checked back into the game.

With nine and a half minutes to go in the fourth, the Pacers cut the lead to just four points, 94-90. Keifer Sykes grabs the rebound and pushes up the court to Torrey Craig for a slam that exploded Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Sabonis attempted a no-look pass whilst looking at Craig when he threw it which I enjoyed.

Keifer Sykes finished the contest without scoring but was able to post 2 assists and a rebound in his ten minutes of play for the Indiana Pacers. He was a plus-two in those minutes.

The Pacers come up short against the Hornets and have yet to beat them all season long, 0-3. The final score was 116-108, Terry Rozier had 35 points for the Hornets.

Caris LeVert, who Sykes was mainly subbing for with no McConnell or Malcolm Brogdon, led the Pacers in scoring with 27 points and dished 6 assists himself.

After the game, Rick Carlisle was asked a question about Sykes’s NBA debut by James Boyd of the Indystar. Carlisle had this to say on his performance:

“He did some good things. He didn’t make his shots but he was making it a full-court game defensively. He brings a pure spirit to our team, he will be ready and will play well for us”.

The next game for the Pacers is against the Chicago Bulls, who they just faced one game prior to the Hornets, on Dec. 26th.

Sykes is from Chicago, where the Indiana Pacers will host the Bulls at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on New Year’s Eve at 3:00 PM ET.

Hopefully, we can see Sykes make everything come full circle and score his first NBA points against his hometown team.

Next. A look at Goga Bitadze's third NBA season. dark