Nothing like a swift kick in the reality to deflate the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-sized balloons that have been trailing the Pacers bandwagon all week. Sure it was the second night of a back-to-back during the tail half of a West Coast road trip, but Utah just sent Indiana a clear, 110-88 message about the difference between a borderline contender and an up-and-coming team with some moxie. (I use the term “moxie” only because I bet that’s how Jerry Sloan would describe this squad.)
It wasn’t all bad. There was the second quarter. But the rest was indeed bad. Really bad.
Indy started off the game looking like they had just stepped off a plane. They turned the ball over repeatedly, didn’t close out on shooters and could not keep the Jazz off of the offensive glass. Even while letting Utah score basically at will early, Indiana did manage to keep up … for a while. Less than four minutes in, the Pacers tied it up at 12-12. Soon after, it was 12-23. And the Pacers would only score 5 more points over the next 8:30. Deron Williams set the tone with 9 points and 9 assists in the initial frame.
At that point, with the Jazz finishing the quarter more than doubling up the Pacers at 35-17, the game looked all but over. To their credit, however, Darren Collison and Danny Granger showed some good on-court leadership, pushing the team to such a good quarter that, at the half, Indy actually was out-shooting Utah 47.1% to 46.9% — this despite the fact that the Jazz posted a video-game-like rate above 60% in the first quarter.
But the Jazz would blow it open again in the third, flushing any hopes the team had down the toilet. DWill continued his good play (overall, he dropped 24 points and 16 dimes with 0 TOs while shooting 10-15), but the second half belonged to Utah front court, with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson torching whoever was standing in between them and the hoop. AK-47, if inefficiently, even got in on the action. Millsap, Jefferson and Kirilenko finished with 16, 17 and 18 points, respectively, to go along with a combined 25 boards.
There were no real standouts individually for the good guys.
Collison definitely looked really good in the second quarter, but he faltered at times later, turning the ball over six times. It wasn’t just the total either; a few came just as the team was starting to put a few good possessions together and hoping to crawl back into the game in the late third. Danny Granger was an all-too-willing shooter early, several times using a few mere inches of space after a dribble hand-off to launch a three. One of his attempts from behind the arc fell. Five others did not. He finished 5-for-16 with 14 points. Pretty gross.
Roy Hibbert’s 6-for-8 line looks better on paper. He probably should have gotten more looks, and I’m sure people will be upset that the team didn’t go to him more down low. The thing is, though, he had trouble really getting good position, often being forced to a less-than-ideal spot to receive the ball in a good place for him to do much. He didn’t really force the issue either, which is odd considering that he has size and strength on Al Jeff, a guy not known for being a formidable post defender by any stretch of the imagination. Hard to pinpoint what went wrong. Roy looked a little tired perhaps. Long road trip and all maybe.
Mike Dunleavy, Brandon Rush and Josh McRoberts each had their moments of good and bad play. James Posey and TJ Ford were largely a waste of post-game-uniform-detergent.
But it really wasn’t about the individuals so much as one team aggressively hammering the glass and making a lot of mid-range shots. At first, it just seemed as though Utah was hot. But after a while, the more and more quality looks they had, you could see their confidence grow as they realized they had jumpers available whenever they wanted — and quite possibly a second or third chance if they missed. 19 offensive rebounds by a team that missed 53 shots is simply unacceptable. Tough to win that way — especially if you’re also going to turn the ball over 18 times (most of which came before the fourth quarter garbage time began).
Ultimately, this was all to be expected. It would be absurd to expect a team unaccustomed to having the label of being good to win three straight out West. Not in Utah against a Jazz squad playing as well as this team has been.
The best thing to takeaway from this is the second quarter, during which the Pacers didn’t lay down and die when they easily could have, and part of the third, when they also cut the lead down to single digits for one stretch that made it seem like the game was not already over.
On to the next one.