In game two of preseason action, the Indiana Pacers continued to experiment, build on strengths, and identify weaknesses on their newly constructed roster.

Unfortunately for the Blue & Gold, those efforts didn’t result in a victory on Tuesday night in Houston, as the Pacers lost to the Rockets 122-103 at Toyota Center.

The Pacers came within a possession of the lead in the fourth quarter, but the Rockets used a 14-4 run midway through the frame to put the game out of reach. The Pacers fell to 0-2 in preseason play with the loss and the Rockets moved to 1-0.

Off the bench, forward Aaron Nesmith had a strong outing for the Blue & Gold, finishing with 18 points (7-for-9 field goals), while second-year guard Bennedict Mathurin registered 14 points (4-for-10 shooting, 5-for-5 free throws) and five rebounds. Also, as reserves, Jalen Smith and rookie Ben Sheppard each scored 11 points and Buddy Hield totaled six points, nine assists, and four rebounds. All 15 Pacers saw action on the night.

For the Rockets, rookie Cam Whitmore and Alperen Sengun each collected 15 points and Jabari Smith Jr. chipped in 14. Six different Rockets players finished in double-digit scoring.

In the loss, the Pacers had double the number of turnovers (18) as the Rockets, and made as many 3-pointers (10) despite hoisting up 42 from deep to Houston’s 25 attempts. Neither team shot well from the free throw line, as the Pacers finished 19-for-26 and the Rockets went 28-for-39. The Pacers committed 31 fouls to Houston’s 23.

“There were stretches with each of the lineups that were OK,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “The idea was to use our depth tonight. I’m seeing some good things. The thing that’s killing us the most is the fouling. We’ve just got to do a lot better job with that.”

Indiana was without three key players in Houston, as All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and veteran center Myles Turner both rested and second-year guard Andrew Nembhard missed a second straight game due to a kidney stone.

Pacers big man Daniel Theis, a gold medal-winner for Germany at the FIBA Basketball World Cup this past summer, made his preseason debut – starting in place of Turner – and T.J. McConnell was in the first five for a second consecutive game with Halliburton again out. Haliburton recently played for USA Basketball during the FIBA competition.

Mathurin, Bruce Brown and Obi Toppin again rounded out the starting five.

Houston is almost a completely different team than the Pacers saw last season, as they have 12 new players on their 20-man preseason roster. Indiana has six new faces.

The Blue & Gold shot just 8-for-23 in the second quarter, and the Rockets took advantage by outscoring the visitors 31-24 in the period to establish a 60-55 halftime lead.

In the opening three minutes of play, the teams traded the lead six times until a second-made 3-pointer by Fred VanVleet put the Rockets ahead 11-9 with 8:49 on the clock.

With 7:33 left in the first quarter, new Rocket Dillon Brooks was ejected after being issued a flagrant two for making contact with Theis in his midsection during game action. Theis then hit both free throws before Toppin converted a layup to put the Pacers back ahead by a point.

After subbing out the entire starting five, with about four minutes left in the first quarter, Nesmith, Sheppard, and Hield all drained 3-pointers to put the Blue & Gold in front by one. Hield got another bucket to go from 16 feet with 2.5 ticks remaining, and the Pacers led 31-29 after one quarter.

From 9:36 to 5:08 in the second quarter, the Pacers made just one field goal but trailed 50-40 thanks in part to some poor free throw shooting by the Rockets. Back-to-back baskets by Nesmith and a third 3-pointer by Sheppard then got the Pacers back in the game at 52-47 with 3:27 left in the half.

Despite a mini 7-2 Pacers run in the waning minutes, the Rockets held on a five-point lead at halftime.

Out of the break, VanVleet drilled a 3-pointer and Tari Eason scored five quick points to quickly put the Rockets back ahead by 10.

While McConnell got a pair of baskets to go and Toppin added a 3-pointer, the Rockets answered virtually every Pacers basket early in the third quarter. However, the Blue and Gold were able to string together an 8-0 run – including three straight baskets from close range by Jalen Smith – to make it 80-77 with 2:24 left in the third frame.

Going into the final stanza, the Pacers trailed 86-80.

A basket by Nesmith, 3-pointer from Jalen Smith, and free throws from rookie Jarace Walker in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter narrowed the score to 88-86.

But the Rockets responded again; this time with five points by Whitmore and free throws from Sengun, to push the lead back to double digits with eight minutes left.

From there, the Rockets were able to hold on for the win as they poured on the points, outscoring the Pacers 36-23 in the fourth quarter.

Indiana was outrebounded 56-46 and outscored 58-40 in the paint in the game.

The Pacers will play twice at home next week to conclude the preseason, as the Atlanta Hawks come to the Circle City on Monday before the Cleveland Cavaliers visit on Friday. The Pacers will host the Washington Wizards on Oct. 25 to open the regular season.

Inside the Numbers

The Pacers assisted on 26 made baskets.

Pacers rookie Ben Sheppard made three 3-pointers against the Rockets, his second straight game draining that many from deep.

In his second game as a pro, Pacers rookie Jarace Walker finished with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes of play.

Houston rookie Amen Thompson, the fourth overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft from Overtime Elite, played 21 minutes and had seven points, nine rebounds and three assists for the Rockets.

You Can Quote Me on That

“Jalen Smith is playing like a guy who knows who he is: what his strengths and weaknesses are and how he fits into the system. I was impressed with him. … We have a lot of guys who need to step up and do the same.” — Carlisle on Smith’s performance

“Aaron (Nesmith) knows who he is and knows how he fits in to what we’re doing. He plays hard and is physical. He did a lot of good things tonight.” — Carlisle on Nesmith

“(Ben) Sheppard is doing a very good job playing his role — running hard, taking open shots, making simple plays. He’s well-positioned on defense. Jarace Walker is showing a lot of the reasons why he was a very high draft pick, but the NBA game is different than college. There are some adjustments he is going to have to continue to make. But he’s showing a lot of very positive signs as to why he was taken eighth in the draft. We are really thrilled with both of these guys.” — Carlisle on Sheppard and Walker

“My job is to go out there, get rebounds, play defense, block shots and score when I have the opportunity. I just have to take advantage of that and do it to the best of my ability.” — Smith on his game

“I feel like as a team we have some things to improve on. Personally, I have some big steps to take. I have some things to learn for sure.” — Walker on the first two preseason games

Stat of the Night

Jalen Smith had a highly efficient night off the bench, making all five of his field goal attempts (including one 3-pointer) in 12:26 of action while also collecting six rebounds. He was the only Pacer to have a positive +/- at +9.


The Pacers and Rockets will play twice during the 2023-2024 regular season: on Dec. 26 at Houston and Feb. 6 in Indianapolis. Last year, the Pacers went 2-0 against the Rockets in the regular season after losing to them in a preseason matchup. The Pacers have won seven straight regular season games against the Rockets.

Jarace Walker played his lone college season at the University of Houston before the Pacers drafted him eighth overall in the 2023 NBA Draft. During his time in college, he earned American Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors before helping his team to the Sweet 16.

Ime Udoka made his home debut as the new coach of the Rockets. He’s just the 16th coach in the franchise’s history.

Up Next

The Pacers host the Atlanta Hawks in a preseason game on Monday, Oct. 16 at 7:00 PM ET.