Pacers' Effort Summed Up in One Play

There was a defining moment of this game. I normally hate writers who overreact to one game — let alone one play — but unfortunately  I couldn’t help but notice that the Pacers did not bring intensity into their home game with the Washington Wizards. I spent the first half of the game justifying it: “It’s the second night of a back-to-back,” “If you follow any team during this condensed season they will play games like these,” and of course, “It’s got to be hard to get yourself excited to play the Washington Wizards.”

But after a 20-second stretch in the third quarter I had seen enough. It was a sequence that summed up the Pacers’ level of effort up to that point.

Here is a play-by-play of how the play in it went, starting with 5:50 left in the third quarter:

  • The Pacers have the ball and do a nice job of moving it around. Unfortunately, no one seems to be moving without the ball so it doesn’t amount to much.
  • As the shot clock reaches five Danny Granger runs the baseline in order to receive the ball in the corner. As he catches it there are about four ticks left on the shot clock and all the Wizard defenders under the basket run at him to close out, leaving Tyler Hansbrough wide open under the basket. It would have been a difficult pass, but certainly not impossible.
  • Granger opts to shoot a fade-away three pointer from the corner instead. Too strong. Airball.
  • Hansbrough, either frustrated or assuming there will be a shot-clock violation, makes little attempt at the offensive rebound. There is no shot-clock violation. The Wizards get the rebound and quickly outlet the ball to Jordan Crawford.
  • Crawford proceeds to take the ball coast-to-coast at a speed far exceeding any of the five players expected to defend him.
  • Crawford makes it all the way to the rim. I count four Pacers that make no serious attempt to stop him.
  • The one Pacer , Darren Collison, who makes a real attempt to prevent the basket, runs Crawford down right as he is getting to the basket and then foolishly gives a weak foul and allows Crawford to score the bucket as well. Three point play.

Here is a highlight showing the second half of the stretch I just described.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJ1pQ1N_sX4&version=3&hl=en_US]

Just like that, the Pacers fell behind 63-57 with 5:31 left in the third quarter. I knew the Wizards would probably let Indiana back into the game, but at that point I did what I rarely do: I made an early and negative assessment of the game. I decided that even if the Pacers found a way to win the game, that 20-second stretch summed up the their performance.

Of course, Indiana did end up pulling off the win. “An ugly win is still a win” is what I usually say. But this one really made me cringe.

Look, there are excuses to be made. The grind of the condensed season cannot be overstated. But the fact is that every team has to deal with that grind and success will only come to the teams that play through it.

The effort, focus and motivation has to change. I don’t know if it means that someone has to step up as a leader of the team or if Frank Vogel needs to change his pre-game speeches. Maybe every player needs to be held accountable.

A couple more of these types of games during the season and the Pacers will find themselves in a much more difficult playoff picture. A couple of these type of games in the playoffs and they will be on the couch much earlier than we all hoped.

When you put forth the kind of effort displayed in the play I just described against the Nets, Wizards or Suns then you will find yourself letting an inferior team stay in the game with you. If you put forth that kind of effort against the Hawks, Sixers, Magic or (God forbid) the Bulls then you will find yourself down twenty points by the time you look at the scoreboard.

The Pacers have another back-to-back coming up this weekend in Texas against two much better teams than the Nets and Wizards. All that has to change is the effort. Then I can go back to being Mr. Optimist.

Tags: Washington Wizards

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