The Pacers lost a winnable game tonight. They blew it like Zamfir. They did it by trotting out some of their greatest hits of crapulence from the last few years:
- Roy the Foul Monster – At the 5:26 mark of the first quarter, Roy Hibbert fouled Earl Barron for the third time. With that, the Pacers lost Hibbert for the rest of the half, and any semblance of their offensive system. The big guy was limited to 8 points, 1 rebound, and 3 assists in 18 ineffective minutes. The Pacers were outscored by 11 when he was on the floor.
- Oops – Down 5 with 1:12, Josh McRoberts grabs the defensive rebound and gets the ball to Danny Granger, who pushes it up the floor. Granger penetrates the arc, then picks up the dribble to make a pass that wasn’t there. He holds onto the ball and barely avoids a travel. As a bail out, he dumps it back out to McRoberts, who promptly whizzes a fastball past James Posey’s ear out of bounds – I assume as an homage to Arizona hero Randy Johnson. It was Josh’s eighth (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8) turnover of the night, and the 25th for the Pacers.
- Powerless Forward – The Pacers’ starting Power Forward had 16 points, 9 rebounds, hit four threes, and got torched by the guy he was guarding. Ahhh…nostalgia.
- Pointlessness – Ford had 10 points and 9 assists, but was generally ineffective. Collison was a disaster, committing 5 turnovers against only 5 assists. It was a flashback to last year’s point guard play, as they repeatedly picked up their dribble too soon, jumped in the air without knowing what they were going to do with the ball, and dribbled so much that somewhere, Travis Best smiled proudly.
- Now You See Him, Now You Don’t – Brandon Rush got the start – ostensibly to match up defensively with Jason Richardson – and delivered 15 first half points to help the Pacers to a 7-point halftime lead. He didn’t score again until there was 3:27 left. He finished with 21, but was largely a non-factor in the second half.
- King for a Day – Last season, the number of random players getting career highs reached almost comical proportions. Channing Frye dropped five of his eight treys, but his 29 points fell one short of his career high (achieved three separate times).
So, the Pacers finish the road trip 2-2, and currently stand at 9-9. There are a lot of different ways to look at it, but overall, the Pacers still stand better than I expected. I filled out a spreadsheet prior to the season that had them at 6-12 at this point, and I thought I might have been being overly optimistic. However, the last two games have been disappointing, and the rule of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately always applies.
Here’s the deal: this team is definitely greatly improved over last year. However, they are still a work in progress. They are trying to learn each other, and, quite frankly, they don’t have a lot of weapons. It’s sort of a miracle that they were even within spitting distance late in a game where Granger scores 8 points on 2-for-13 shooting, Collison finishes with 6 points and 5 turnovers, and Hibbert was in foul trouble and playing poorly.
Looking at this road trip as a whole, there are some things that should temper some of the flush of enthusiasm that surrounded the Pacers this week. They played only one complete game: Sunday vs. the Lakers. They won the Kings game largely on the strength of one 9-minute stretch of good play. The Jazz was shaping up as a blowout, before the Pacers used a strong second quarter and early third to cut a 19-point deficit to three, but still, it ended up a blowout. And against Phoenix, they played one 3-minute stretch of strong basketball, then bumbled around for the other 45.
So, the glass half empty says that this team generally fizzled after a strong start to the road trip. The Pacers struggled mightily offensively, and generally exposed a lot of flaws that were being a little glossed over after wins in Miami and Los Angeles.
However, the glass half full is where I’m going to go. The Laker win was excellent, and it was not a fluke. There will be more games like that this year than there will be games like the Utah loss. More importantly, as much as they struggled over the last three games, Indiana probably only needed another 5-6 minutes of strong – or at least competent – play to turn the Phoenix loss into a win. You shouldn’t underestimate how far the Pacers have come just in the last few months in order to be able to win or even remain competitive on the road when they play poorly.
A year ago at this time, the Pacers went on one of the easiest west coast swings I’ve ever seen (Warriors, Kings, Jazz, Clippers), and got swept in a pretty ugly fashion. They do have a very long way to go, but they have come a long way in a year.
Indiana returns to Conseco Monday to host the Raptors. Hold onto your hats.
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Tags: Game Recap