Though they will both come into Saturday night’s game in Indianapolis after losses, the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers both had some positive results that helped soften the blow.
Those silver linings add to the intrigue of this matchup, which is the second game of a back-to-back for the Jazz and the first outing since Wednesday for the Pacers.
Indiana’s loss to Kyrie Irving and Brooklyn featured a stirring return, and not just for the Nets’ star guard. Lance Stephenson played in the first home game of his third stint with the Pacers. The Pacers’ fan favorite, who’s on a 10-day contract, finished with 30 points to the delight of Indiana.
“I’m so happy to be here, it’s home,” Stephenson said. “It’s like playing in front of family.”
Stephenson was brilliant when he entered the game. He scored the final 20 points of the first quarter, which was an NBA record for points in an opening quarter by a player coming off the bench.
The 31-year-old took an interesting route back to Indy. He was with the Lakers in 2018-19, played in China for the Liaoning Flying Leopards in 2019-20 and then spent time in the G-League in 2021 with the Grand Rapids Gold. The Atlanta Hawks signed him to a 10-day contract in December, and the Pacers then scooped him up after that deal expired.
“As soon as I put that jersey on, I feel like I just get my powers. … I just feel comfortable,” Stephenson said. “And when you’re playing in front of people that’s happy for you to play and telling you and egging you on, it makes the game more easier.”
Even with Stephenson’s night and a Domantas Sabonis triple-double — 32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists — Indiana fell for the sixth consecutive game Wednesday.
“It was amazing,” Sabonis said of Stephenson’s effort. “He’s been through a lot and to come back home and just have this kind of game for him, it means a lot. Wish we could’ve got the win for him.”
The bright side for the Jazz also included big nights from unexpected sources.
Utah played without eight key players, including its starting lineup, on Friday in Toronto. Despite that, the end-of-the-bench Jazz players seized their opportunity and gave the Raptors a scare, building a 17-point lead.
Eventually, the seldom-used Jazz players ran out of steam, and Fred VanVleet saved Toronto by scoring 17 straight in the third quarter to erase a 14-point deficit.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder couldn’t complain about his players’ effort, though. They competed and kept it close for most of the way, led by career-highs from Eric Paschall (29 points), Elijah Hughes (26) and Jared Butler (17).
“I was really pleased and proud of the guys who were out there tonight and how they competed,” Snyder said.
The Jazz played without Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles, who entered the NBA’s health and safety protocol after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in this five-game road trip.
Donovan Mitchell (back), Mike Conley (right knee) and Bojan Bogdanovic (left middle finger) didn’t travel to Toronto after Wednesday’s win in Denver. And Rudy Gay (right heel), Royce O’Neale (right knee) and Jordan Clarkson (back) were sidelined.
Utah did get Hassan Whiteside back after he’d missed time in the NBA’s concussion protocol.
Everyone but Gobert and Ingles is expected to play in Indiana, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
–Field Level Media