Canadians Nembhard, Mathurin step up for Pacers in all-star Haliburton's absence

Canadian sophomores Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin displayed growth that was welcomed by Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle last week.

Sophomores impress head coach Carlisle while winning 3 of 4-game homestand

Two basketball players jump next to each other.
Canada's Bennedict Mathurin, left, and Andrew Nembhard, right, seen above in October 2022, impressed their head coach as they helped keep the Indiana Pacers afloat while other players were injured. (Darron Cummings/The Associated Press)

Andrew Nembhard and Bennedict Mathurin displayed growth that was welcomed by Indiana Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle last week.

With all-star guard Tyrese Haliburton injured and unable to run the Pacers' NBA-leading offence, Nembhard of Aurora, Ont., stepped in averaging 18.0 points and 8.0 assists while starting over the team's four-game homestand.

Indiana fell to Denver on Jan. 23 before putting together three straight wins to improve to 27-20 and hold onto the sixth seed in a competitive Eastern Conference.

"[Nembhard] made key plays down the stretch again," Carlisle said after Sunday's win over Memphis. "His numbers don't look super gaudy, 16 [points] and nine [assists], those are good numbers ... he was tough defensively the whole game.

"These are situations you don't want to be in, but when you are, you got to figure it out. And he was terrific."

Nembhard was a second-round pick (31st overall) for the Pacers in 2022 and has steadily improved from his days as being a pass-first guard in the NCAA ranks.

While he has missed 14 games this season due to injury, he feels he has found more consistency and rhythm of late.

"With the spacing, it allows me to be more aggressive to score the ball first and allow those passes to come off of it instead of just thinking play make, more passing style," he said. "I think I've really grown my scoring game."

Mathurin has bounced back from a slower start to this season and has found more rhythm in his game as the sixth man on a deep, young Pacers team.

The 2022 first-round pick (sixth overall) is averaging 14.3 points and 25.5 minutes per game. He hovered around that average last week, but it was the win over Memphis where the Montreal native left his mark.

Mathurin, 21, scored 19 of his team-high 24 points in a first half where Indiana couldn't find much offence outside of their budding guard.

"I thought Mathurin was tremendous," Carlisle said. "In the first half, when we couldn't get anything going he was making the right play every time.

"The right drive, the right pull-up [jumper], the right read. And he gave us a lot of life in the first and second quarter. Tremendous growth by him this year with those things."

Nembhard shared a similar sentiment.

"He took the pressure off of us, he was super aggressive going downhill, especially in the first half," he said of Mathurin. "Drawing fouls, getting easy layups. He did a good job opening up the game for us on that side of the floor."

For Mathurin, it was just about keeping the game simple.

"Knowing what the defence gives me," he said of the meaning behind keeping it simple. "They were giving me the drives early and I was applying pressure going to the rim."

Haliburton, selected as an all-star starter this season, has deservedly earned much of the attention Indiana has received, as has a recent trade with Toronto for all-star forward Pascal Siakam.

However, Mathurin says the group has shown just how deep it is and what the others on the team are capable of.

"I feel like we have a lot of guys on our team who [are] able to get 24 [points], who [are] able to get 22 [points]... just really a group of guys whose able to take over the game," he said.

"Last game against Phoenix, [Nembhard] was playing amazing. I feel like we have a deep roster and the ability that we have to be able to finish the game."

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