Per Usual, the Pacers Lose to the Hawks

This team has become really hard to watch. I can’t even imagine how it feels to play in or coach these games. Knowing this would be the case even before tip-off last night, I opted to not even bother. Like most of you, I presume, I took my talents to a local watering hole to watch the Jets beat the Colts. (Sorry, yall.)

Being the faithful Pacers game-watcher that I am, however, I did sit through the Hawks game on DVR this afternoon. Since I (sort of) have a life and schedule conflicts come up, me watching a game the next day happens at least once every few weeks. It’s different watching aware of the outcome. Having already read the recaps, seen the boxscore and looked at the game flow, you watch with prejudice, looking for specific things like whether someone played poorly or just shot poorly.

Of course, given the degree to which the Hawks have owned the Pacers for the past few years, I didn’t need a DVR and the passage of time to know how this one would go. Atlanta is the one team that I feel the Pacers simply have no hope of beating. They’re certainly not the best team in the NBA, but the match-ups, athleticism, style of play and — at this point — psychological edge are all on the side of the Hawks.

Atlanta’s play-by-play team summed it all up in the third quarter. They were only up 14 and there was still nearly 17 minutes to play, but they — and everyone else who was watching — knew that there was no way the Pacers could win. “It’s amazing the way they have dominated this Indiana team,” said long-time play-by-play guy Bob Rathburn. “Atlanta going for its ninth straight win against Jim O’Brien’s ball club — seventh in a row here [in Atlanta].”

“Tonight is no different,” added Dominique Wilkins.

After the game, Jim O’Brien basically said the same thing.

“They’re a terrifically talented basketball team and they’re just a little too much for us to handle right now,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said.

And Mike Dunleavy predicted my lede.

“We’re really not playing well right now,” Mike Dunleavy said. “We just have no flow on offense right now. It can’t be a whole lot of fun to watch us right now.”

As for the actual game, there’s not a ton to say. Indy couldn’t execute on offense and Atlanta scored with ease. It’s just rinse and repeat at this point with Hawks/Pacers games.

Josh Smith did whatever he wanted to, scoring 27 points (including 8/10 from the line), grabbing 10 boards and dishing out 6 dimes. Joe Johnson was hitting shots from all over, finishing with 24, 5 and 6. Al Horford didn’t score all that much, but was able to exploit the Indy front court often enough to be a problem.

For the Pacers, who shot 41% and 5/17 (29.4%) from behind the arc, there were few highlights. Danny Granger looked confident, sticking some big shots in the first half to keep the game close. They only trailed 55-50 at the half, but a big third by Josh Smith ended that mirage.

Some other stuff happened that I won’t get into because, really, the only worthwhile takeaway from this game was a nice and hopefully confidence-boosting stretch played by Paul George to start the fourth quarter. He hit his first three jumpers, the second being a step-back 21-footer that came on the subsequent possession after he knocked down a shot off an out-of-bounds play. Not long after, he spent a defensive possession playing tough, aggressive, physical defense on Joe Johnson. Joe wasn’t particularly involved in the play, but when a Hawks player made a bad pass to Zaza Pachulia, George was right there to scoop it up and take off dribbling. He pushed it hard up the center of the court, was picked up by Mo Evans at the top of the key and tried to go by him with a dribble move. George mishandled the ball a little and was awkwardly fouled by Mo to stop the action, so it isn’t something you are going to see on SportsCenter.

But even though it wasn’t pretty, I liked the way he looked. It was clear by the way he took it up court and tried to make a move that he was out of his own head. Too often, George just looks like he is thinking too much. You can almost see the Xs and Os dancing through his head as he tentatively hops around, unsure exactly what he should be doing. It is times like this — when he is instinctively grabbing a loose ball and pushing it or when he is toying with a defender before stepping back for an open jumper — that he is doing what he should be doing. And that’s playing basketball.

All rookies struggle with this. The game has always been fairly simple for them since they are so talented. And here they are in a league where everyone is just as talented — and some way more so. The whole thing becomes faster and more complex. The brain simply has trouble processing it all.

Eventually it all slows down, the more complex plays and systems become familiar and basketball once again becomes basketball. Paul George knows how to play basketball. He has some definite gifts. It’s nice to see him use them.

The other bright spot was Tyler Hansbrough playing well in his second career start. 4-for-7 shooing for 10 points and 5 boards in 23 minutes. Good things. Need more of them from him if the Pacers hope to turn this season around.

And of course this means that Jim O’Brien will probably give him three straight DNP-CDs. His unpredictability is becoming too predictable.

Lastly … Roy Hibbert is a horrible basketball player right now. He’s well aware of this and is going to see a sports psychologist to talk about it.

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