(Ed note: We’re trying something different here today. We’ve essentially gone “swinging” with one of our favorite NBA writers, doing the blog equivalent of wife-swapping by trading sites for the IND/SAC recap. Zach Harper of the ESPN TrueHoop Kings blog Cowbell Kingdom wrote the recap below, and I’ve written the one for his site. Zach knows his stuff about Sacramento, obviously, so he has a good perspective on last night’s game. But, more importantly, he follows the entire league about as close as anyone can, so I thought ye Pacer fans could get something useful out of hearing an educated outsider’s thoughts on the Indiana franchise at large. – JW)
So this is the life of an NBA swinger? I’ve been eyeing this blog for a while, and I’m very happy that Jared decided to swap with me for a night. So let’s ease into this with a nice cognac and turn on a nice romantic comedy to set the mood…
These are not the Pacers that I remember.
I mean, they still have a really good wing scorer. And they can rebound inside with some size. But there isn’t much in the way of substance with this team. Where are the guys that kill themselves to win? Where is the solid starting lineup? Where is the grit and determination that bred successful night after successful night for more than a decade?
Instead, I watched a team against the Kings that had Jeff Foster, Dahntay Jones and Earl Watson play the role of players who wouldn’t be intimidated by a hostile environment (even if there were only 7,000 people in attendance). They were the ones that wouldn’t be bullied. Guys like TJ Ford, Mike Dunleavy, Troy Murphy and Roy Hibbert, on the other hand, came out and played a nice 18 minutes — then got smacked in the mouth and wilted.
When the Pacers played a scrappy version of this game, they looked like they were ready to upset a team on the road. For the first quarter-and-a-half, the Pacers double-teamed with a purpose. They swarmed the Kings ball-handlers, swiped at the ball and forced turnovers. In fact, in the first half of the game, they forced 14 turnovers. On offense, they moved the ball well, found open jumpers and put the Kings defensive rotations on their heels. They made the Kings indecisive, which is the best thing you can do against a young team. And the Kings are very young. Seven of the ten guys that played in this game for Sacramento are 23-years-old or younger.
With a young team, you need to get them frustrated early, maintain a manageable deficit or flustering lead at halftime and then come out in the third quarter and bury them early to get them yelling at each other and playing selfishly on offense. You have to turn them into a collection of individuals instead of letting them come together as a team. This is what the Pacers started to do.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, they allowed the Kings second unit to take over this game in the second quarter and rescue Sacramento from this plan. Beno Udrih came in and continued his hot shooting. They let Jason Thompson dominate inside in the second quarter. The Pacers got lazy on offense and stopped moving the ball around the Kings defense. Instead, they force-fed Danny Granger and made him try to win this first half rec-league style. But that doesn’t work in the NBA.
The rest, you know, is pretty much history. The Pacers made one big push in the third quarter to get back into the game. After Tyreke Evans picked up his fourth foul, Indy went on a 15-2 run. The Kings effort became stagnant while the Pacers rode the hot hand of … this can’t be right … Earl Watson?
Seriously, Earl Watson?
Now this is the problem with this Pacers team that I mentioned before. Sure, Granger is great. I mean, he’s really impressive. I watched Kevin Durant torch this Kings team for 37 points a couple of weeks ago. Last night, I watched Granger go off for 33 points against the Kings. And I honestly can’t tell the difference between the two talents. They’re basically the same skill-set with the exact same abilities. The difference is that Granger settles for jumpers more often than he should, and Durant settles for nothing but his opponent’s soul.
My guess on the reason for this is the malaise that hovers around this team. Mike Dunleavy is supposed to be the second or third gunman on the Conseco knoll. However, he moves like his dad. Maybe his knee is healed and maybe he just needs to get back in shape before he gets his quickness back, but neither of those things have happened yet. He moves slowly and is a liability on the court because of it. Troy Murphy looked like one of the more useless power forwards you could find. He didn’t look like he could create a single basket on his own.
And then you have guys like Roy Hibbert and T.J. Ford.
I actually like Hibbert a lot and think he can be a nice version of Rasho Nesterovic (that’s a compliment, not an insult). But he’s not a good option to guard guys like Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. When they pull him away from the basket, his usefulness plummets.
But I’d still take Roy Hibbert away from the basket over what I saw from TJ Ford. Mostly, it’s unfair to criticize him because he was going against someone twice his size in Tyreke Evans. Evans obliterated him on the court to such an impressive degree that he wasn’t seen from in the final 20 minutes of the game. Not only that, but he also attempted just four shots the entire game. And didn’t hit any of them.
The saving graces from this game were Jeff Foster’s work on the boards, Dahntay Jones’ aggressive nature on offense (that was weird to type) and Earl Watson making the Kings pay for trying to guard him with Sergio Rodriguez.
If you heard before this season started that a Kings blogger would feel sorry for you around the beginning of December, you would have assumed there was either a lethargic feel to this team or a Larry Bird stroke that made him decide to re-sign Jamaal Tinsley.
I don’t know what to say about this Pacers team to cheer you up. You have Granger who is a phenomenal talent but even he looks downtrodden after a month of play.
Imagine what he’ll be thinking about his teammates come March…