The story’s probably going to be the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter is when the Pacers fell. It’s when their shooting deserted them and 13 of their 18 field goal attempts went astray. It’s when Indiana could only muster one point over five+ minutes and watched a five-point lead turn into a four-point deficit.
The fourth quarter is when the Heat – one of the two or three best defensive teams in the league – choked off the Pacers’ attack. It’s when LeBron James scored seven points in the final 2:06.
This is what Mark Boyle had to say about the fourth quarter:
In a game lost by five points, the Pacers were outscored by 12 points in the fourth. The story of this game is clearly the fourth quarter.
Except, it’s not.
Finish the Damn Quarter
The Pacers didn’t lose this game in the fourth. The fourth is merely when their last breath passed their lips. The true fatal blows occurred earlier in the game. There were three of them:
- Leading 27-25 with 1:07 left in the first, the Pacers allow two wide-open threes to James Jones and a layup to LeBron James as Miami finishes the quarter on an 8-2 run.
- A relatively improbable series of events over a 40-second span – including an 8-second call on Miami and a four-point play from Dahntay Jones – puts the Pacers up 14 and rolling with 2:14 left in the first half. A couple of bad turnovers and a couple of missed shots later, and the Heat rattle off an 11-0 sprint to end the half.
- Up 12 points with 1:31 left in the third, the Pacers fail to corral a defensive rebound, allow a LeBron James putback which was the beginning of a 7-2 Miami finish to the third.
After 36 minutes of play, the scoreboard said that the Pacers were up 97-90. However, what really had happened is that Indy had outscored the Heat 93-64 over most of the game to that point, only to give back 22 points in the combined final 4 1/2 minutes of the first three quarters.
And that’s really the story of this team. Mark Boyle shouldn’t be surprised that the fourth quarter issues still exist despite the coaching change. The problems with the rotations were clearly O’Brien’s fault. It looking more and more apparent that O’Brien and his style had a bigger negative impact – particularly on Roy Hibbert – than I had thought. However, the fourth quarter problems – at least against good teams like the Heat – are structural.
Right now, the Pacers don’t have a finisher, or really a clear direction to go in a tight game against good defenses. The game slows down in the fourth quarter, and everything gets tighter. Last season, the league-wide average pace was 92.7 possessions per 48 minutes. The fourth quarter pace dropped to 89.9 possessions per 48 minutes. It is just harder to score, and even harder if you don’t have a player or a way to “move” the defense.
The Pacers don’t have that right now. Danny Granger is too one-dimensional. Hibbert is too erratic – and it’s always harder with post players who have to have someone get them the ball in position. The most likely candidates down the road are probably Darren Collison and possibly Paul George – but both are too young for that at this point.
The Pacers need to win games over the first 36 to 44 minutes of the game, because they’re generally going to be at a disadvantage in the final four. They might become a grind-it-out team sometime down the road, but they aren’t right now and probably won’t be this season.
Tonight, they played the role of Gorgeous George to Miami’s Mickey. Instead of standing over the prone Heat and telling them that they wanted to stay down, they should have been looking to kick them into unconsciousness while they were down. Because Miami’s right is every bit as potent as Mickey’s, and the Pacers carried Miami for one too many rounds and found out first hand.
- I clearly did not expect the Pacers to win this game. In fact, I thought they were going to get spanked. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this team, but they are playing some very good basketball right now. It is to the players’ credit, and it is to Frank Vogel’s credit. But…no good deed goes unpunished. Expectations are going up.
- There were some things that concerned me, and we’ll see how they evolve. It seemed that Granger was back to settling for jumpers in the fourth quarter, and Roy’s last two shots were a weak, half-hearted hook and a soft layup miss that could have easily been an And-1. This is part of what I was talking about above, so consider it a starting point. There’s a difference between missing a shot and wasting a possession, and these two need to get on the right side of that line. (Update: Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and Darren Collison combined for 5 points on 1-for-9 shooting in the fourth quarter.)
- If you follow me on Twitter, you saw that I had some harsh words about Dahntay Jones’ presence on the floor at the end of the game. The tweets were probably unfair to a degree. Without Dahntay playing the way he played for most of the game, the Pacers may not have been in a position to win the game. However, I still believe that it was a mistake to have him out there in that situation. I think the team would have been better served to go with their starters to finish – meaning Mike Dunleavy instead of Jones. The team just plays better with that unit together. In some situations, Paul George will belong on the floor at the end, but Jones is just too problematic offensively (and not good enough defensively) to play down the stretch in a tight game.
She’s terrible partial to the periwinkle blue, boys.