There are a lot of things to like about Frank Vogel’s Pacers. Since the young coach took over as head coach in 2011, Indiana has won 60% of their regular season game and provided some playoff excitement. They’ve established a physical, defensive identity for which the fans clamored.
But they have an ugly side, and it was on display last night.
That, right there, is the game – the meaningful part – in all its gory detail. For the first 2-1/2 minutes of the game, the Pacers looked sharp, hitting four of their six shots and jumping out to an 8-1 lead. Then, the next 15-1/2 minutes happened.
From the 9:33 mark of the first quarter to just about the midway mark of the second, the Atlanta Hawks outscored the Pacers 42-10 to -for all intents and purposes – win game three of the first round series. How bad was it? The Hawks scored more points off turnovers (11) than the Pacers scored off…well…anything (10) during the stretch.
Seasoned observers of the Pacers could probably see what was coming by sometime around the middle of the first quarter. The game was still tied, but Indiana was missing bunnies and looked completely lost offensively. By the end of a 27-14 1st quarter, most Pacer fans had to know that they had seen this game before. There was still the possibility that they’d reel the Hawks in before halftime, but I wasn’t expecting it.
This was another one of those games where the Pacers were expecting the other team to lose.
It has happened more than anyone would care to admit this season. Games against Toronto, Charlotte, and Washington come to mind as examples. This phenomenon manifested early – when the Pacers were banking on weak opponents to get them through Danny’s injury. It manifested late – when they fell behind by at least 20 in each of their final six games – and David West said, ” I thought we maybe let our guard down, when we got back off that West Coast trip, and we were kind of reeling from there.”
And it manifested again on Saturday night.
The difficult thing to determine is how much to worry about both last night, and the trait itself. This is a strange collection for the Pacers. As a group, they have demonstrated resilience in spades this season. From Danny Granger’s injury, to Paul George’s slow start, to Roy Hibbert’s abject incompetence on the offensive end for long stretches, Indiana has dealt with potentially crippling issues and largely overcome them.
But, as a group, they have also shown that they are really bad at dealing with adversity in the short term. There have been several instances where – when the game starts to get away from them – they simply let go. Some of that is mental, some of that is physical, and some of that is structural.
The most concrete reason that games get away from the Pacers is their offense. It’s just not good, and it’s rarely explosive. They are not built to score points in bunches, and while Coach Frank Vogel preaches the value of running the ball, they are only occasionally effective in producing fastbreak points. They rely on staying close to teams and wearing them down with their physicality. When the floor opens up, they are in trouble.
Also, it’s worth noting that I did not expect any close games in this series. The regular season history between these two squads has been liberally peppered with games that were never really in doubt -one way or the other. In this series, the likelihood is more pronounced, because the success factors are mirror opposites. If one team is successful and executing its game plan, the other will have almost no chance of winning.
So, there are several factors to make this a throwaway game. It was certainly frustrating for all concerned on the Pacer side of the equation, but it was – to be trite – only one loss.
As always, the important question is, “Where do the Pacers go from here?” The Pacers must respond in Game 4 with execution and maturity. This isn’t going to be about getting mad or getting even. It’s going to be about getting back to doing what they need to do to win games. Play defense. Push the ball. Get good shots inside in the half court.
Those things happen. Hopefully, we won’t see Indiana’s ugly side againon Monday night.