I believe the exact words I used were “real ugly, real quick.” Regrettably, I understated the issue. After O’Brien made a lineup change specifically designed to address their pick and roll defense issues, the Pacers opened the game by — wait for it — being torched twice on successive pick and rolls. Such was the start to a 1st half that had Toronto and Indiana announcers scrambling to see what the Raps’ record was for most points scored in the first half. (It’s 79.) I could go into the details, but do you really want re-live a half where the Pacers’ biggest (only) accomplishment was to prevent the Raps from setting that record (by holding them to 74)?
Suffice it to say that the Pacers had dug themselves a 21-point hole by allowing Toronto to shoot a ridiculous .695 eFG%, while putting up an anemic .432 themselves against the worst defense in the league. (Well, excluding the one that played for the Pacers in the first half.)
The game would have been a complete disaster if not for a guest appearance by the 2008-2009 version of Danny Granger in the second half. After going three for 12 in the first half, Danny announced his arrival with back-to-back three’s to open the third quarter. From there, he proceeded to put together a 22-point half and finish with team highs in points (36), rebounds (9), and assists (5). It was, unfortunately, too little too late, as the Pacers were outscored 26-20 after they cut the deficit to five with 33 seconds left in the third.
If the Celtic game was an illustration of what might be, then the last three games show how far this team really is from that ideal. The team still largely plays as if they just met when they got to the arena, and the offense is putrid unless Danny is hitting on all cylinders. Last year’s team brought a puncher’s chance into virtually every game with their shooting, but this year’s team has lacked any kind of consistent firepower. The defense, while improved, is still not capable of dealing with a team with strong ball movement and a lot of shooters like Toronto. The Raptors are, after all, the top offensive team in the league.
Where this goes from here is difficult to tell. The confusion will likely remain as Indiana tries to work Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster back into the rotation. Hopefully, Mike Dunleavy’s return will further complicate matters next week. Meanwhile, the Pacers continue a replay of last season’s early wasted opportunities. In the current four-game losing streak, they’ve dropped games to two bad teams (New York and Charlotte) and one exceedingly mediocre team (Toronto). They are 3-4 at home. They cannot afford to dig the same hole they did last year in November and December, particularly since they’ve had an unbelievably favorable schedule to this point.
In any case, here are some other observations on a relatively depressing evening:
- Jeff Foster was finally Jeff Foster in the second half tonight. He didn’t have a great box score, but he brought good defense on Bosh and some much needed energy. Also, it was nice to see a big man who could actually execute in the high post. If you watch Foster’s game, he gives an excellent illustration of how a non-scorer can actually help the offense. The Pacers last real chance to may have come when they failed to convert on two vintage Foster offensive rebounds on the same possession early in the fourth.
- Roy Hibbert scored 8 points in 11 first half minutes, but did not see action in the second. Much will be made of this in some quarters, but it will be much ado about nothing. While it was very nice to see two well-executed pick and rolls between Roy and Earl Watson, his numbers look more impressive than they really were, and the team was -12 with him on the floor. The Pacers needed to scramble to get back into the game, and Solomon Jones was given a shot. When the team played well with Solo in, it was pretty clear that Roy was going to be done for the night. He’ll be back in the starting lineup tomorrow against the Clippers.
- Troy Murphy finally hit a couple of threes in the fourth quarter, but there’s a whole lot that worries me about Troy’s game at this point. He had two big rebounds (one offensive, one defensive) simply bounce off of his hands down the stretch. He’s never been a fantastic player, and he had decent numbers (11 & 8), but they seem more like empty calories than ever before. In his ESPN chat today, Chad Ford said, “…And I think the Pacers have to start thinking about dumping Troy Murphy. He’s unhappy sharing minutes with Hansbrough and has been sulking a bit. Given that Murphy does two things (rebound and shoot threes) that could help a myriad of playoff teams, I think the Pacers could get something decent in return.” Now, I don’t see any real evidence of Troy sulking, but I have no inside access, either. You have to wonder what, if any, source Ford has for this info. If the Pacers could find a taker for Troy willing to send back expiring contracts, the much needed cap relief would make it awfully tempting to pull the trigger and move forward with the younger bigs (Hibbert, Hansbrough, and Solo).
- Buckaroo Banzai (Tyler Hansbrough, for the uncouth and unitiated) had another nice showing. The final line shows 10 points, 4 boards, and a block in 15 minutes. The highlight play was a rebound and stuff that cut the deficit to 97-92 late in the third, but that was not his most impressive moment. In the first half, he had two very nice post moves, and the game seems to be slowing down for him. Given the fact that the guy missed all of training camp and preseason, you have to be pleased with his first eight games.
- The relationship between T.J. Ford and Jim O’Brien is going to be something to watch closely. Ford scored 16 on 6 of 10 shooting tonight, but he was lethargic in the first half. More troubling, he got an earful from O’Brien in the 4th for putting no effort into fighting over a screen, which resulted in Jarrett Jack hitting a big three-pointer. O’Brien immediately called for Watson, but there was no stoppage of play that would allow for the substitution. Shortly thereafter, there was an animated conversation between Ford (on the court) and O’Brien (on the sideline). Ford continued to make his point after O’Brien apparently lost interest in the conversation, turning and walking away.
- The former Pacers on the Raptors killed Indiana tonight. Jarrett Jack broke out of a prolonged shooting slump by hitting all seven of his shots, including three from behind the line. He added 6 assists to his 18 points. Though I hate the success was against the Pacers, I always liked JJ, and I’m glad to see him have some. Rasho’s game, on the other hand, rankled. Considering the fact that Nesterovic spent the last half of last season in Indiana doing a stunningly accurate impression of a corpse, imagine my surprise when he hung 12 points and 7 boards on the Pacers in his 16 minutes of play. Now, he did have some quality games for the Pacers early in the season last year, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being. However, if he’s still producing come April, then I’m going to take to heart all of the rumors that he basically mailed in last season because he didn’t want to be in Indy, and consider him a douche bag.
Other items of note: The Pacers bench was outscored by the Raptor’s bench 50-34…After a crappy offensive 1st half, the Pacers scored 39 points in the third, posting an Offensive Rating for the period of over 150 and an eFG% of .708…For the game, the Pacers’ Offensive Rating was 114.3, their second best outing of the year, but the Defensive Rating of 125.5 was the worst of the season…Dahntay Jones scored 12 points off the bench in 27 minutes. The playing time is over 7 minutes below his season’s average…Brandon Rush (@KCsFinest09) tweeted this afternoon, “Coach is gonna try to kill us today n practice. We got our ass chewed out n film.” For all the good it did.