INDIANAPOLIS — Playing high school basketball in the state of Indiana feels like forever ago to Gary Harris.
The Fishers native played four years at Hamilton Southeastern, from 2009 to 2012, where he won Indiana’s Mr. Basketball award after his senior season. The McDonald’s All-American eventually made his way to Michigan State University and spent two years with the Spartans before being drafted by the Denver Nuggets this past summer.
On Friday, Harris made his NBA debut in his home state.
“It feels like it was so long ago,” Harris said about his high school days. “Just to be here, this is the moment you’ve dreamed of, what you’ve worked for.”
Harris was impressive in his first professional action. The 6-foot-4 guard scored 13 points in 18 minutes off the bench while pitching in three rebounds and two assists, as the Nuggets rolled the Indiana Pacers, 108-87.
Harris had yet to see the court this season due to a back injury. The rookie had a bad fall in practice a few weeks back that led to a bruised tailbone. However, with Denver guard Randy Foye unable to suit up because of a knee injury, Harris was activated. Enough time for him to make sure plenty of family and friends had tickets to the game.
“I can’t even tell you. There was a decent amount though, a lot of people here,” Harris said when asked how many tickets were distributed.
“He didn’t practice with us for about a week and a half,” Denver head coach Brian Shaw said. “He’s gotten a couple of good days in, he stayed sharp, and he showed it tonight”
Harris’ defining moment of Friday night’s debut came with 10:18 to remain in the fourth quarter. Harris drove past Pacers’ guard Donald Sloan on the right wing and avoided an Ian Mahinmi block attempt to slam home a right-handed dunk. The play had the entire Nuggets bench on their feet and is likely headed for the top of highlight play segments.
Gary’s mother, former WNBA player Joy Holmes-Harris, missed her son’s dunk. The television camera caught Joy looking for help from the people sitting next to her in the crowd as to what had happened. “I missed it!” she said. The replay was never shown in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“She was probably too busy on her phone,” Harris said of his mother afterwards. “She’s always on her phone trying to take pictures. She was probably sending a text or something.”
The play, which Harris described as “an opportunity I saw and just took it,” was a microcosm of the Pacers’ problems on Friday. Denver’s speed and tenacity on the glass proved to be too much. The Nuggets scored 19 second-chance points, grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, and had seven players finish with double-digit scoring. They were able to stretch their lead to 33 at one point.
The pace from Wilson Chandler, Ty Lawson, and Arron Afflalo in particular, is what Indiana head coach Frank Vogel made point of after his team’s first loss in the last three games. The Denver trio combined for 41 points while Lawson compiled 10 assists.
“We’ve got play harder than every team we play every night,” Vogel said if the Pacers want to have a chance.
A.J. Price led the way in scoring for the Pacers with 14 points off the bench. Three Pacers, Lavoy Allen, Donald Sloan, and Solomon Hill, each pitched in 12. Overall, Indiana shot just 40 percent from the field and missed half of their 22 free-throw attempts.
Vogel also mentioned the Pacers aren’t good enough or experienced enough to not play as hard as their opponent each night. With the amount of injuries to front line players the team is dealing with, there’s a clear lack of talent on the floor.
The Pacers took another blow on Friday, as C.J. Miles left the game early in the first half. Miles, who just returned from a 3-game absence due to a severe migraine, re-injured the same right calf that plagued him during the preseason. He scored just two points in four minutes.
Miles doesn’t believe the injury is serious enough to cause him to miss significant time, but it could’ve got to that point if he tried to play through it.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Pacers in the immediate future. They’ll make a quick turnaround and play the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday. Vogel hopes his team will show more fight than what they displayed against Denver.
“It should hurt. We should be angry,” he said.