National Basketball Association

Domantas Sabonis leads Indiana Pacers to record blowout. Is it a good sign?

6 days ago

On the schedule, it looked like just another nondescript, regular-season NBA game, something to help pass the time on a Saturday night.

The Indiana Pacers were muddling through their season, entering the night with a 29-33 record, while the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-42) were in full rebuild mode.

But when the teams took the court in Oklahoma City, things quickly changed into anything but regular. Part of the reason for that was the return of Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers’ All-Star who had missed six straight games because of a back injury.

Sabonis immediately took control and showed no signs of rust, going for eight points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the first quarter.

By halftime, he had a triple-double, with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Pacers had a jaw-dropping 82-46 lead. It was just the third first-half triple-double since the 1997-98 NBA season.

The second half went more or less the same way. The Pacers outscored the Thunder 44-24 in the third quarter and at one point led by 70 before finally easing up on the way to a 152-95 victory. The 57-point blowout was the largest margin of victory for a road team in NBA history.

Sabonis finished with 26 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists in 30 minutes. After the game, he was asked if he had ever had such an easy time on the court.

"No, not especially at the professional level," he said.

He did make it look pretty easy.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault called the loss "embarrassing," saying, "I’m not gonna try to spin that. We’re still grateful to be playing basketball. Adversity tests the connection of the team. It tests everything. It squeezes you. It shows you who you are."

The Thunder are young, so they might be expected to struggle on occasion. But this loss was historically lopsided.

The 57-point home defeat topped the previous record of 56, which has happened twice:

- 1986: Seattle SuperSonics defeated Houston Rockets 136-80
- 2018: Boston Celtics defeated Chicago Bulls 133-77.

The largest margin of victory in NBA history, regardless of home team, came in 1991, when the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat by 68, 148-80.

While all of this is interesting and fun, the question is: Does this portend success for the Pacers moving forward?

If you examine the history of the three teams that have delivered blowouts of this caliber, the results are mixed. Let’s take a look.

1986-87 Seattle SuperSonics

Coached by Bernie Bickerstaff, the Sonics were an interesting yet inconsistent bunch. Their defense was spotty (defensive rating of 110.3 ranked 16th), and they were occasionally on the wrong end of blowouts.

As the only team in NBA history to have a trio of 23-plus-point scorers – Dale Ellis (24.9), Tom Chambers (23.3) and Xavier McDaniel (23.0) – the Sonics were difficult to stop when hot.

After slipping into the playoffs as the West’s No. 7 seed at 39-43, they upset No. 2 Dallas in the first round and victimized the poor Rockets (again) in the second to reach the Western Conference finals. That’s where their season came to an end, as they were swept by the eventual NBA champs, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers.

2018-19 Boston Celtics

Led by Kyrie Irving (23.8 PPG), a 20-year-old Jayson Tatum (15.7 PPG) and a 22-year-old Jaylen Brown (13.0 PPG), Brad Stevens’ squad had the look of a team on the rise.

They showed signs of dominance that season, too, putting together an eight-game winning streak from late November into mid-December – a streak that included the 56-point win at Chicago – and winning 10 of 11 as they closed in on the All-Star break.

The Celtics started hot in the postseason, too, trouncing the Pacers in a four-game sweep. Unfortunately, they could not solve Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern semis. Giannis averaged 28.4 points, 11 rebounds and 5.2 assists as the Bucks eliminated the Celtics in five games.

1991-92 Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs were a deep and talented team led by an accomplished coach in Lenny Wilkens. They had six players who averaged double-figures, led by big man Brad Daugherty (21.5), point guard Mark Price (17.3) and veteran power forward Larry Nance (17.0).

They finished second in the Central Division, with an excellent record of 57-25, though that was 10 games behind a Chicago Bulls squad led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

In the playoffs, the Cavs breezed past the New Jersey Nets in the first round and outlasted the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinal series. Alas, it was those Bulls who bounced the Cavs in six games in the Eastern finals on their way to a championship. (This was not the legendary series in which Jordan hit the shot over Craig Ehlo. That one came in 1989.)

What does this mean for the 2020-21 Indiana Pacers? 

All three of those teams were playoff contenders, with two of them advancing to their conference finals.

It remains to be seen if that history can be applied to these Pacers. Indiana is sitting on the fringes of the playoffs, and even if the Pacers reach the postseason, there are a group of Eastern Conference heavyweights awaiting them in the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Bucks.

No matter what happens, though, the Pacers, with Sabonis leading a young core of players, will be interesting to watch the rest of the way.

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