The Pacers played miserably to end both halves tonight and that was the difference. With two minutes to go in first half, Indiana lead 54-43 and had held Golden State to just 15 points through the past 10 minutes. To close out the half, the Pacers missed two layups (Jeff Foster and Brandon Rush) and failed to defend the perimeter, allowing Monta Ellis to hit two threes (in addition to two other buckets). The result: the team that had dominated the first two quarters only led by 5 points at the break and the home team now had momentum and confidence to start the third.
Then, in the final two minutes of the game, the Pacers looked even worse. With the game tied at 105-105, Darren Collison traveled. It was a careless play in which he wasn’t even over-eager to get the hoop; he simply got himself in trouble picking up his job with nothing to do and dragged his pivot foot. Two possessions later, Danny Granger tried to hit a rolling Foster with a pass. It wasn’t even close. As @noamschiller said, “Danny Granger might have lost Indy the game, but in his defense, that fan was wide open.” If that wasn’t enough, Foster was again part of futility on the other end. Good Pacers defense forced Monta Ellis, who looked very much like an All-Star while scoring 36 points on 16/28 shooting, into a tough 16-footer. David Lee outplayed Foster for the board and kicked it out to Monta, who wouldn’t miss when given a second chance.
Despite this, the Pacers, who were now down 3, tied it up on a miraculous Collison lay-up and-one. But Monta stuck a pull-up dagger at the other end with the clock dwindling and Indy couldn’t get a good look at the hoop inbounding with only 0.6 left.
Another blown opportunity. Pacers lose 110-108.
The crunch-time failings will — and should — receive the bulk of the blame. But it’s meltdowns like the one to end the first half that really continue to perplex me. I’m not sure any team blows mid-game opportunities to demoralize the opponent more than Indy. If they had just stayed focused for two more minutes as they headed into the break, they could have easily been up by at least 9 and perhaps double-digits. Teams like the Warriors may fold in such situations — particularly if the Pacers would have used the first-half momentum they built by going on a 19-2 run at one point to do better than the 7-turnover, 5-for-16 shooting performance they gave in the third quarter.
A few other notes:
- Prior to tonight, AJ Price had played in 7 games this year yet he still entered the game before TJ Ford, who didn’t play a minute. In similar news, Josh McRoberts started tonight after playing a total of 15 minutes so far in 2011. Jim O’Brien’s lineups are clearly decided by a monkey, a dart and a dart board. It’s beyond troubling and just funny now. What could possibly go through this man’s mind is beyond me, especially when Conrad Brunner reported that the coach offered the following comment before the game: “When you lose a key guy like Roy you try not to change up your entire rotation.” James Posey also got only his third DNP of the season, and Solomon Jones, who actually hasn’t gotten many minutes since December, also sat out all 48.
- Perhaps also worth noting is that AJ Price was terrible. He had 3 turnovers to 1 assist and just generally dribbled around awkwardly and ineffectively way more than you would like to see.
- Danny Granger had a great first half. One of the best halves I’ve seen him play this season even. He made it a point to penetrate, getting into the paint often and keeping the defense guessing enough to give him room to shoot from the outside. Granger was even setting up teammates for buckets. But he got away from “good Danny” in the third quarter as he started trying to go bucket-for-bucket with Dorell Wright, who torched Indy all night. By the time his arguably game-losing turnover occurred, he had 7 for the game and sullied what could otherwise have been an uber-efficient 32 point, 13 rebound, 6 assist night on 11-for-19 shooting. Still a decent night and a great stat line, but highly tarnished.
- The aforementioned start for Josh McRoberts came alongside Tyler Hansbrough. I’m not going to lie; I was skeptical. But I actually rather enjoyed their time together on the court. Josh had a monster dunk early on a nice Granger dish and Tyler completed a highlight put-back dunk off a Mike Dunleavy missed layup. They brought energy and had the game taken place in Conseco, I think the crowd would have been going nuts. McRoberts played less than 20 minutes, however, and we were instead given a healthy dose of a Foster/Hansbrough big man lineup. I didn’t like that one very much. Foster finished with 15 boards though so he definitely helped out a lot — even while missing several layups, as expected.
- Darren Collison was back to being hesitant, only taking 11 shots in 32 minutes, which looks even more aggressive than it was considering that 3 of those FGAs came in the final 4 minutes of the game. I like the initiative late, but they needed more of it. In his defense, he did sit for way too long in the third quarter as Price dawdled around the court doing very little.
- As this season starts to feel increasingly downtrodden, the need to develop Paul George becomes paramount. This kid can be good. He is beginning to look comfortable out there. At one point he grabbed a board and dribbled coast-to-coast, getting himself to the line with a nice attempt near the paint. He played some good defense at times and would have had his fourth double-digit scoring night in his last 10 games had he been able to convert a should-have-been-easy-but-he-was-too-giddy alley-oop in the second half.