Post-Game Grades: Pacers Mount Epic Comeback, Still Lose to Nets

Let’s start with the good.

The whole game was an entertainment bonanza, with Deron Williams turning into a fleet of fighter jets in the first half to destroy everything in his path. There was also some general animosity that kept the game edgy while never crossing the line into shenanigan-ville — or worse. Reggie Evans got tossed for throwing his head band, but that seems like typical Reggie Evans behavior, and nothing elevated towards the dangerous.

Then, after the Pacers fell down by 24 points in the second half, they went on a monster run that culminated in taking back the lead.

What? Yes, they did that.

Again.

Twas even more insanity this time since the Nets aren’t the Cavaliers, and Indiana took over even more than they did the other night.

As quickly as it happened, it still seemed methodic and organic as opposed to some scoring binge based on unsustainable play. Lance Stephenson was a catalyst, exploiting matchup advantages (they had Jerry Stackhouse on him much of the time) and making uber-aggressive moves while, generally, staying in control. There were two particular plays that showed how well he was making decisions even while running on the border of the red line.

On one, he just wouldn’t stop trying to penetrate. He whipped the ball around his body, meteor-belt style, with dribble moves, jerking and hesitating while torquing a vicious crossover through his legs that — finally — got him into the lane. Then, just when you thought he was about to throw up a heave at the rim, he made a calm, collected interior pass to Roy Hibbert, whose man helped off on Lance’s drive, for the layup.

On another, which cut the lead to 11 at a critical crescendo in the comeback, he pushed the ball fiercely on the break and, in text book fashion, ran right at the teeth of the (pretty decent) transition defense until it overcommitted. He read the play and made a crisp bounce pass to a streaking George Hill for the layup.

Around the same time, another under-heralded Pacer, Tyler Hansbrough, was a monster. He was getting hands on loose balls and just generally pissing people off in his unique way.

Paul George was also wonderful.

His confidence on a catch-and-shoot three from the right wing late in the third that cut the deficit from 7 to 4 was great to see. That’s how he looks — calm, eager to shoot, reserved, fluid, decisive — when he’s playing at his best. He converted another big-man-on-campus bucket later in the fourth when he carved out position near the foul line and stuck a crafty little step-back fadeaway.

These were two little vignettes into his potential greatness. The better stuff came at the other end as he stalked ball-handlers and shut off passing lanes. I’m still surprised sometimes when he really digs in and plays at his peak defensively. Guys like Andre Iguodala and LeBron, with their muscle and bulk, may be more ferocious, but it remains amazing that a player as slender as Paul George can be so imposing, largely without even making much physical contact. He just pushed Deron where he wanted him to go, anticipated action and shut off first options. That he is 22 years old is somewhat ridiculous.

Back to his step-back make though, that right there is the type of play you need an individual to make to win some playoff games.

Better still, not long after, Roy Hibbert, David West and Stephenson all showed similar abilities during one fantastic stretch of execution that made it seem like — in front of a raucous crowd — they couldn’t lose. Roy got nice position, received an entry and made a definitive move that led to two points. West got his Power Dirk on, rugby-scrumming his way to as much real estate as he could command before leaning back, elevating and burying that indefensible 16-footer he could make in a coma. And Lance, on a pick-and-roll with West, wasted no time launching an open three as his defender was unable to get through the pick quickly.

That was the go-ahead bucket, putting the Pacers up 101-99.

Not much good happened after that unfortunately.

After some Jerry Stackhouse free throws knotted the score back up, Indiana played one of its worst defensive possessions of the night. Which is saying something considering how the whole first half went.

George Hill had the tough task of staying with the taller Joe Johnson. He did a fine job to start, staying in front of Johnson and forcing him to give up the ball with a swing pass. Then Hill fell asleep. Johnson relocated to the arc, got the ball back and buried a triple.

Ouch.

Nets back up 3.

Paul George matched with a three-pointer of his own to tie it back up, but then the Pacers left Stackhouse open in the corner. Three-pointer taken. Three-pointer maken.

Nets back up.

And after two layups by Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, that’s how it would stay.

Combined with the soft defense late, the Pacers also stopped executing. After the George three tied it at 104, the Nets scored the game’s next 7 points. Indiana wasted its possessions on a bad turnover by Stephenson trying to do to much, a hurried George three attempt (that wasn’t that bad but felt a little hero-ish), and a listless set that clogged the lane while Hibbert missed a tough shot from the post (something that was set up by some pointless meandering by Stephenson).

Stephenson sorta redeemed his earlier blunders by doing nice work to get to the line — but he missed the free throws with under a minute to play. The freebies would have cut a 7-point lead to 5, so it still would have been an uphill climb, but his lack of focus essentially ended the game.

It was a really rough ending to what had been a fantastic comeback.

So, yeah, not good on that front. Executing late is something that remains a question mark with this team, and they did nothing to dispel any worries here.

Also, there was, ya know, that whole first half thing.

It’s really not even worth breaking down. They simply got destroyed. Admittedly, they did show a little something here and there to stop the bleeding, but then Deron Williams did something ridiculous to open the wounds back up.

That doesn’t forgive the wack offense and uninspired defense the team played, but sometimes great players just do great things and you need to tip your cap.

Still, the defensive inconsistency is troubling.

This team seems to have bought into its own hype a little bit. It seems to be too comfortable relaxing a little while smelling its own farts. It seems to think it can push a button to, as the cliche goes, turn it on and turn it off.

Let’s hope that isn’t the case. They aren’t nearly good enough to even contemplate that.

The reason this was such a good team a few weeks ago was because it never did anything but play fervent, suffocating, harassing defense all game long. Even the reserves, mostly. Collectively, all the players disrupted enough possessions and forced enough lazy mid-range jumpers that the opposition’s efficiency dwindled over time, its foundation slowly mucked up, play by mucked up play. Rather than taking a wrecking ball to the side of the opponent’s offensive house, the Pacers style was more of a gradual roof leak that didn’t seem be all that disruptive until a whole side of the house caved in.

If Indiana starts only ramping it up in selected occasions, as they seemed to do throughout the first half, then the team’s whole identity and ability to beat the league’s best teams goes out the window. They can’t coast for five minutes at a time. It needs to be deflections, hard close outs and paint ownership all game long. The whole out-scoring teams thing was fun for a while, but that’s never going to work against a top-level team in a seven-game series. To win, they need to turn every defensive possession into a struggle for the other team. Not half the possessions. Not two-thirds of the possessions. Every of the possessions.

They showed very little of that in the fist half.

And when it comes down to it, watching the expectation of every-possession defense disappear is more disturbing that seeing the Pacers screw up a few offensive plays late.

I have seen the latter a lot. A lot a lot.

I have seen it even in games they win.

But softening up on the defensive end? And winning? Yeah, that hasn’t happened much at all that I can remember against any top-tier teams.

It probably won’t work in a seven-game series either.

IND BK

Here is how each guy played individually tonight. Agree? Disagree? Express your thoughts below in the comments or yell at me (@8pts9secs) or Tim (@TimDonahue8p9s) on Twitter.

David West, PF 38 MIN | 11-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 3 STL | 1 BLK | 4 TO | 26 PTS | -12 

Robot efficiency. Was making big shots, getting crazy deflections and generally just being the rock that he is.

Paul George, SF 43 MIN | 7-17 FG | 4-4 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 3 BLK | 4 TO | 21 PTS | -3 

Showed that he is emerging from a bad stretch of play. Was ice cold defending Deron Williams in the second half. He’s half jaguar, I swear. Hit a huge three during the comeback. Missed a shaky one late.

Roy Hibbert, C 32 MIN | 7-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 18 PTS | -3 

Wasn’t involved much in the comeback and showed how he can be a defensive liability out there late against the pick and roll.

George Hill, PG 36 MIN | 5-15 FG | 4-4 FT | 1 REB | 10 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 17 PTS | -10 

Better line than I remembered.

Lance Stephenson, SG 36 MIN | 5-9 FG | 1-6 FT | 4 REB | 6 AST | 2 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 13 PTS | -12 

Beastly at times but made a poor decision or two near the end of the game that didn’t really help.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 18 MIN | 3-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 9 PTS | +3 

Very active off the bench. Gets fouled every second of every day.

Sam Young, SF 17 MIN | 1-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -3 

Mopped up some minutes, played adequately.

Ian Mahinmi, C 8 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 2 PTS | -5 

Was the Pacers best bench player for the first two-thirds of the season. Now I just expect him to be a non-factor.

D.J. Augustin, PG 12 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1-1 FT | 0 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 1 PTS | +5 

Getting Hill back in the game in the middle of the fourth quarter was so necessary.

Tags: Game Recap

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