The Bucks never seemed particularly interested in winning last night. But by failing to take advantage of a disastrous shooting first quarter by Milwaukee (5-for-23), the Pacers were not able to establish themselves as a team worthy of a victory either.
The Pacers got hot in the second quarter, dropping 40 points on 61.1% shooting (11/18). Unfortunately, so did the Bucks — 34 points on 57.1% (12/21). More unfortunately, Indiana apparently drank a bunch of vodka during halftime because they only scored 30 total points in the second half.
With that type of offensive execution, it’s surprising they only lost by four.
As I said before, however, Milwaukee never seemed particularly interested in winning.
If you look at the box score, two of the three usual suspects from last year are the obvious culprits of ineptitude: 38.7% shooting (which drops to an even grosser eFG% of 42.7% when you factor in the 6/24 three-point performance) and 19 turnovers.
The turnovers were particularly problematic early. Six in the first quarter. That’s just sad even if the full-court outlet pass from Dunleavy was a good idea that was poorly executed and one by Danny was clearly just an early-season miscommunication. More than any individual error being cause for condemnation, however, the real sin was committing a combination of blunders at a time when the opposition was struggling so badly that the home team Pacers probably could have delivered a borderline knockout punch against the struggling, Bogutless Bucks had they just finished the first quarter up 28-18 instead of 20-18.
Then again, even had they developed some early-game momentum, that might not have meant anything considering how gross the second half offense was. One exchange between Pacers play-by-play guy Chris Denari and color commentator Quinn Bucker sums it up best.
Denari: “I just don’t like Indiana’s offense right now.”
Quinn: “I don’t particularly care for the last two shots.”
After the game, Coach Jim O’Brien seemed to be on exactly the same page.
“I wasn’t crazy about our offense before the game. I’m not crazy about it after the game,” O’Brien said.
There’s not a ton else to say. We saw it time and time again last season. When you’re offense is sputtering to such an extreme degree, it’s nearly impossible to win a basketball game — particularly when you don’t have an overpowering defense to rely on for stops.
Still, somehow, the Bucks played just as badly for most of the game. So the Pacers did have a shot to win. A good shot.
But they ruined it with bad shots.
I got a bad feeling about how this one would end as soon as Danny hit a step-back 20-footer with 5:07 to play. He came around a screen and pulled up — in space, surely — hitting nothing but twine. It was a fine shot in the situation but he just seemed a little too eager to take it. Again, he’s one of the best jumpshooters in the league, he dribblef himself into a good position to take a jumpshop and he drilled the jumpshot. It was a good shot.
But it was almost like watching someone hit an 16 in black jack with the dealer showing a 4 and catch a 5. OK, you got away with it this time, but eventually, if you keep that up, the percentages are not going to work out so well.
Much to my delight, however, the next offensive possession had MDJ and Hibbert running a sweet, albeit slightly awkward, two-man game on the right side. Dun originally had the ball on the wing and was urging Roy to bully his man on the block for an entry pass. Roy didn’t seem to get that and instead came up to set a screen. Dunleavy used the pretty poor pick pretty poorly and eventually just tossed the ball over to Roy in the elbow extended area. All this time-consuming meandering did very little to put the Pacers in a good position to score, but a timely backdoor cut by Dunleavy and stellar pass by Roy turned the whole thing into an easy layup.
This is what good offenses do.
They go to their strengths (Roy in the post, Mike making entry passes) and even when those strengths don’t work out as planned (this certainly was not scripted), the percentages lead to buckets. Fact is that it’s hard for big men (particularly “big men” on Milwaukee not named Andrew Bogut) to guard Roy Hibbert. And another fact is that Mike Dunleavy is a borderline-elite passer/decision-maker on the wing. Isoltate that situation enough times and, more often than not, things will work out in the end.
But they never went back to that. Or anything really resembling it.
Two straight turnovers on the subsequent possessions left Indy, which had taken a 85-84 lead on the Dunleavy layup, down 90-85 and looking increasingly desperate and out of sorts.
Do I need to tell you what happened next? Danny took a pull-up jumper. He missed. Next trip down? Danny took a pull-up three. He missed.
A few nice defensive possessions, a timely Darren Collison steal and some free throws pulled the Pacers within 2 points, with the ball, with 38 seconds to play. Somehow, they had a chance to tie — perhaps even win.
Then Danny missed a jumper.
Epilogue: The Bucks rebounded Granger’s miss, and Indy opted not to foul down two with just 26-27 seconds left to play. Some might question this strategy, but I actually was fine with it. It’s not like Milwaukee was some team that had been executing well in the half court, and it’s pretty hard to use up more than 22 seconds of the shot clock and still get a decent look. So if you can get a stop, you probably get a board with 4-5 seconds left and can advance the ball to half-court down 2. You foul there — probably fouling a guard — and you’re hoping they miss. Then, unless you score with 0.0 on the clock, the other team still gets a chance to win anyway after you get a bucket. Regardless of strategy semantics, Hibbert tried to take a charge with 5 seconds to play — and probably did — but it was called a block. Game over.