Pacers need to make some rotation changes for Game 3

The Indiana Pacers have to consider either starting Obi Toppin or T.J. McConnell or drastically increasing their minutes.
Feb 22, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) and forward Obi
Feb 22, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard T.J. McConnell (9) and forward Obi / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers found something that worked in Game 2 and they need to rely on it more come Game 3 against New York on Friday.

Aaron Nesmith, while being very productive in the regular season, has been quite inconsistent in the playoffs, and in Game 2, he had perhaps his worst game of the playoffs. Usually counted on to bring defense and three-point shooting to the starting lineup, Nesmith did neither of those things on Wednesday.

He only scored six points on 2/7 from the field and 2/6 from deep as well as having two turnovers and three fouls. In total, Nesmith had the second-worst plus/minus on the team at -19 and brought absolutely nothing productive to the table in general.

On the flip side, Obi Toppin has been a revelation in the playoffs so far. In two second-round games against his former team, Toppin has averaged 16 points on 70% shooting and 57% from deep in only 19.6 minutes per game. In Game 2, specifically, he had 20 points on 7/10 shooting and 2/4 from deep, finishing as the Pacers' second-leading scorer despite playing the seventh-most minutes at just under 20.

Another bench spark that has been carrying the Pacers to solid runs has been T.J. McConnell. Relatively quiet and unproductive in the first five games of the Bucks series, McConnell has come alive in the last three games, with his late-third-quarter and early fourth-quarter run keeping Indiana in the game before a substitution resulted in him not seeing the floor for the final seven minutes, during which New York went on a 25-18 run and won the game by nine points after only leading by one point earlier in the fourth quarter.

While it is true that Tyrese Haliburton and Andrew Nembhard were playing fantastic in Game 2 as well, and perhaps it wouldn't be the best idea to run a three-guard lineup in crunch time, there was little to no excuse to keep Nesmith on the floor with how bad he was playing.

Obi Toppin should have closed Game 2, and there is a case for McConnell to close as well, as he was the only Pacers defender who could give Jalen Brunson some trouble on defense in the first two games.

With the series shifting back to Indiana on Friday for Games 3 and 4, and with OG Anunoby missing at least one game and most likely the second as well, Indiana has a crucial opportunity to make it a series again. To do this, Obi Toppin and T.J. McConnell have to get more than 20 minutes each. They have arguably been Indiana's two best players this series, and have outperformed any playoff expectations placed on them beforehand.

With Nesmith struggling, it is probably a good idea to start Toppin in Game 3 or at least give him more minutes than Nesmith while still coming off the bench. Due to the shin injury clearly still bothering him, Nesmith has not been the same shooter or defender since the night he suffered the injury and it has shown in the playoffs. While Toppin may not be a great defender himself, he can still provide more offense than Nesmith and may very well be the energy spark the Pacers need to take back control.

As for McConnell, while he may not be able to start, he should still get more minutes off the bench. He brings energy and offensive firepower whenever he steps on the floor, and has given Jalen Brunson some trouble on defense as well, which will be necessary going forward.

With Brunson possibly still feeling the effects of the sore right foot which kept him out of the second quarter of Game 2 and has him listed as questionable on New York's injury report for Game 3, McConnell's high-energy defense and ballhawk abilities will come in handy to slow Brunson down, especially since Indiana's second-leading scorer in OG Anunoby is out.

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The Pacers have a chance to snag back control of the series with two crucial games in Gainbridge Fieldhouse, but they cannot rely on the fans or improved refereeing to get it done alone. They are fortunate enough to have not one, but two spark plugs off the bench who can provide instant offense, and it is about time they get unleashed.