Frank Vogel turned the Pacers into a team that spoiled its fans during the first half of the regular season. Racing to a 33-8 record, Indiana placed towering expectations on the remainder of their year, which only gets tougher for all 30 teams as the season drags on.
The lack of strong attendance in Time Warner Cable Arena on Wednesday could have correlated with the fact that the Pacers didn’t get off the team bus in the first quarter.
Seriously, a non-existent opponent would have demonstrated just as much offensive execution as Indiana was able to display in the first 12 minutes. The NBA may be a “make or miss league” in today’s modern era, with more athletic freaks of nature and complete shooters entering the league’s pool each year. So while you’re not usually going to stop every shot attempt from falling and will have to persevere through bad luck, Charlotte didn’t have much to grimace about on their defensive end. In the first quarter, Indiana scored 8 points — the fewest the franchise has scored in any quarter since it entered the NBA — while connecting on just 4-of-20 field goals and coughing up 6 turnovers.
This Indiana roster isn’t one perceived as offensive juggernauts, but they’ve been up and down in terms of establishing quality starts. During the month of March — two wins followed by two losses — first-quarter effectiveness has been rare, with the Pacers averaging 19.5 points on 36.7% shooting in the month’s four games.
How does this recent lack of ignition to begin games compare with what we’re used to?
Considering the team’s 12 match ups in February consisted of first-quarter explosions, it’s common for people to enter a state of worry and blast a team that has out-performed everyone for four months. February featured Indiana averaging 25.8 points per first quarter, while shooting 50.8% from the field. In a span of one month, the team’s determination to develop leads out of the gate has gone from a season-best to a season-low. Call it fatigue or whatever you may, but the rest of the league continues to find ways around the shut down the Pacers. It may not happen for all 48 minutes, but they’re sure getting the job done to start a game. And, as we know about the game of basketball, setting the tone is just as important as putting on the finishing touches late in the second half.
In Charlotte, the Pacers got their wake-up call in the second quarter, as Evan Turner and the bench (without C.J. Watson) stormed back to issue a 30-point period while the Bobcats scored just 19. In the battle of “good Lance, bad Lance,” the good decided that enough was enough, as Stephenson scored eight points in the second to lessen some of the damage and cut into the deficit. Four Pacers (Turner, Stephenson, Luis Scola, George Hill) each contributed at least six points and made Wednesday night out to be a game of runs.
But by committing 18 turnovers in the game — nearly tripling Charlotte in that department — there was no possibility of a comeback, even with the best third-quarter performance we’ve seen in a long time. Indiana has become more disciplined in keeping possession of the ball, averaging just 12.8 turnovers in their last five games. You love to see the improvement throughout February and the beginning of March, so the one horrific occurrence on Wednesday becomes forgivable — unless you’re scared to death about the Eastern Conference race for the top seed.
Paul-Star Was Just …. Paul
Which brings us to the real story of the game: Paul George officially recorded his worst game of the season in the loss the Charlotte, scoring only 2 points and making ZERO field goals. He shot 0-for-9 on the night, couldn’t find the rhythm anywhere on the court, and looked disheartened by the third quarter.
After Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James obliterated the same Bobcat defense to enter the 60-point-game club, it can’t feel too sweet to nearly put up a doughnut against a 28-33 unit. (Granted, Charlotte does rank 6th in defensive rating).
George told reporters afterwards that his awkward fall on Sunday vs. Utah was bothering him the whole game. “Last night [vs. Golden State] I was able to get through it just based on adrenaline,” he claimed. “[It was] a tight night for me.”
On December 1 of last season, George played his “career-altering game” in Golden State, coming up scoreless and missing all 7 of his field-goal attempts. He stated earlier this season that his shortcoming forced him to sit back and realize how much improvement he needed in his game before being mentioned in the NBA’s superstar class.
George’s Shot Chart vs. Bobcats
Wednesday’s showing depicted exactly why George does not belong in the category with the current MVP candidates, at the current moment anyway. He may be the leader of the team atop the conference and the perfect two-way player for a coach, but decision making on the offensive end is still a raw area for him. Indiana’s offense goes through long stretches of mediocrity— something that probably won’t change this season — and the problems run much deeper than just some lackluster showing by George.
Still, it is up to the team’s best player to ensure that the team pulls out of the funk it is currently in — and soon. There is plenty of blame to go around, and some may simply be the midseason doldrums, but if this team wants to win a title, it needs to start gearing up for the playoffs, and George needs to be the one who sets that example.
Fortunately, with players that possess his talent, it just takes time — and we have already seen him do it in November and December of this season. There is no reason to suspect that Paul Star, and namely his offensive touch, won’t return as soon as tonight on national television against the Rockets.
So now, after this worst-of-season outing, it’s time for George to stand up and make his first real move as a leader of Indiana: letting the guys know that they can’t afford to settle for a two seed, and putting some life back into this offense.