If you look at the schedule over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see some scary opponents. Over the next eight games, the Pacers will face the Magic, Heat, Thunder, Lakers, and Jazz. Sitting at 4-5, the Indiana Pacers need to notch as many of their “winnable” games as they can while they try to learn how to play together. Thursday brought one of those “winnable” games to Conseco in the form of the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clips entered the night 1-11 and missing their starting point guard (Baron Davis) and their starting center (Chris Kaman). They were less than 24 hours removed from a 113-111 loss in Minnesota that had been closely contested throughout. While it’s not entirely clear yet where the line is that separates “should” wins from “can” wins for this Pacer team, this game was well into the “should” win category.
Despite all of these advantages, it was the Pacers who came out flat and found themselves in a 7-0 hole just over 90 seconds into the game. The Pacers missed 11 of their 19 shots, turned the ball over 6 times, were out rebounded 13-10, and sent the Clippers to the line 11 times. By the end of the first quarter, Indianapolis native Eric Gordon had scored 11 points and hung two fouls apiece on those tasked to guard him – Brandon Rush and Paul George.
Fortunately, the Pacers escaped that quarter trailing only by 3, at 25-22. This was thanks in large part to some miserable shooting by the Clippers on their own part (8-of-22 from the floor), and the normally reliable Eric Gordon missing three of his seven freebies.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, the only thing that they were able to carry over to the final three quarters was their horrible shooting.
Los Angeles’ shooting – .333 for the evening – was so poor that it drew the attention of ESPN Stats & Info. The odd part is that the shooting was pretty much the antithesis of Atlanta’s from Tuesday night. Where the Hawks posted a .554 eFG% on a XeFG% of .454, the Clips could only manage an eFG% of .347 despite an XeFG% of .491. The shot chart above is from the second quarter last night, and it exemplifies L.A.’s futility in the paint.
The Pacers, meanwhile, feasted. Or should I say, Roy Hibbert feasted?
Though far from an aesthetic masterpiece, last night’s second quarter did give a couple of really encouraging things for the Pacers. First was the 14 points scored by Roy Hibbert in the quarter. His made all seven of his shots, matching the number of makes for the Clippers in the quarter. More importantly, he completely dominated the paint against the vastly inferior Insert-Name-of-Clipper-Center-Here. Six of his seven shots were inside 10 feet, and the Pacers outscored the Clippers by 12 in Hibbert’s 10 second quarter minutes.
The second positive was the aggressive defense of Danny Granger for the second game in a row. Granger was largely responsible for harassing Joe Johnson into 11 points on 12 shots Tuesday night. However, his work on Eric Gordon was more impressive. Gordon, very strong and very quick, had pretty much had his way with the first three Pacers tasked with stopping him – Brandon Rush, Paul George, and Dahntay Jones. His highlight of the night came late in the first, when he blew past A.J. Price with the shot clock running down and threw down a sick dunk over Roy Hibbert.
In the second, Danny was having none of it. The signature sequence was when Gordon had Danny isolated on the right wing. Gordon tried to make a move, but Granger cut him off and proceeded to bully – the exactly appropriate word – him into the corner. Gordon was able to clear the ball to the top, but in that one moment, he went from looking dangerous and aggressive to appearing very small and somewhat frightened. E.J. managed only 8 points on 2-of-9 shooting in the final three quarters and was an almost complete non-factor.
By the end of the second quarter, the Pacers had established a 10-point lead. The lead would only drop below that for a total of 14 seconds at the start of the third quarter as the Pacers cruised to their fifth win of the season.
- The Pacers blocked 14 shots last night, which went a long way towards causing the Clippers relatively bizarre 10-for-23 shooting at the rim. Hibbert got his now customary three (with a more exciting zero fouls), and Danny chipped in 2, but the rest came from somewhat surprising sources. Jeff Foster got two, something he’s only done 50 times in his previous 697 games. Brandon Rush recycled a staggering 5 shots. Only one of his blocks came against a smaller player (Eric Gordon). The other four came against DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Al Farouq Aminu (twice).
- Brandon Rush is a perplexing player. Besides his five blocks, he also chipped in 14 points and was +18 on the night. However, it wasn’t a particularly impressive game to see. This wasn’t one of those quiet games where you just don’t notice his contributions. This was one of those nights where you (or, at least, I) noticed Rush mostly for crappy play. He spent the first half of the first quarter being gutted like a fish by Eric Gordon. He had four turnovers, all of them – if memory serves – the result of his now-trademark dithering. He hit four-of-five three pointers, but his first came after he butchered an attempt at cutting to the basket, dithered (once again), then wandered out to the corner where a teammate found him. It’s to his credit that he hit his shots, but all were relatively passive ventures. He was 0-for-2 from inside the arc, and is now shooting worse from there (.421) than from three-point range (.438) this season. Dating back to last year, he’s only barely better inside the arc (.432) than outside (.412). Worse, he’s taken 318 treys against only 97 free throw attempts. The ratio of 3.3 3’s to 1 FTA is far worse than the league standard. Last season, shooting guards who averaged over 20 minutes a night posted a ratio of 0.88 to 1. The decidedly sedentary Troy Murphy has a ratio of only 1.77 to 1. It also bothers me that in the four home games this season, he’s played well in the two where the opponent arguably rolled over and died – Nuggets & Clippers – but been virtually non-existent in the two tough losses to the Bucks and the Rockets.
- The point guard position – while far from perfect – appears to have been transformed from a sucking chest wound to a position of stability. Collison has struggled, particularly defensively, but has still been an upgrade and shown great promise for the future. A.J. Price played extremely well last night – 14 points, 6 assists – and has scored very well in both of his appearances this year. However, T.J. Ford deserves a lot of credit, particularly from me. This summer, I made it clear that I did not see any use for Ford. I was clearly wrong. Ford has performed well as a backup, providing some important veteran leadership and defensive presence. Me being wrong is far from rare, and I don’t generally consider it all that big a deal. However, the tone and content of my post this summer was somewhat derogatory towards T. J., and I feel it’s appropriate to underscore this particular instance of wrongness.
- The ghost of LaSalle Thompson is alive and well in Conseco Fieldhouse. I had brought this up in a tweet during the Denver game, but the more I watch Tyler Hansbrough, the more I see LaSalle Thompson. Mostly, it’s in the way that Buckaroo Banzai ends up with rebounds or loose balls that he has no business getting. There was a play last night where the Pacers missed a shot, and Blake Griffin appeared to have a bead on the board. However, he didn’t handle it cleanly. Once he bobbled the ball, and it came down below his shoulders, I could see Hansbrough about five feet away (and behind) start to move towards the ball. My mind immediately said that Hansbrough was going to get that ball. Buckaroo tipped at it, then bumped a little, then reached, then bumped a little more until finally he came out of the pack with the ball. Vintage LaSalle Thompson.
- Tank’s spirit is also evident in the presence of James Posey. He has proven a calming influence on the team, constantly talking to players as they come out of time outs, whether he’s in the game or not. He’s limited offensively at this point – 43 of his 50 FGA’s have been threes, and he’s taken no FT’s – but he’s also been a contributor on the floor. Prior to last night’s game, the Pacers had allowed only 99 points per 100 possessions in the 158 minutes he was on the floor. If you cut it down to the 102 minutes he’s played without Solo on the floor, the defense improves to allowing only 94 points per 100 possession, while the offense is scoring 104 per 100. You don’t want him playing heavy minutes, but he – along with Jeff Foster and T.J. Ford – could provide an important presence if this team makes a playoff run.
- The power forward position is being run by committee these days, with the minutes being spread between starter Josh McRoberts, Tyler Hansbrough, and James Posey. Regrettably, McRoberts has become a complete cipher offensively, and this is being noticed by people he’d prefer wouldn’t notice. Still, it’s probably not yet time for a change. Posey would only be a band-aid, and Tyler still struggles with knowing where to be at both ends. However, I’m beginning to think that once Hansbrough has a better grasp of the game plan, he’ll become the primary option at that position.
- The Pacers host the Magic Saturday night. Good test for Roy Hibbert against Dwight Howard.