The final score? 92-88. The Pacers couldn't grab any of the 50-50 balls, had some bad calls go against them and turned the ball over what felt like a million times (but was actually only 18), especially in the fourth quarter as the Kings turned to their zone defense and stagnated the Pacers offense. Miraculously, the Pacers weren't completely out of it until Danny Granger (with the Pacers down by 2) decided to "cleverly" toss his second free throw off the rim and to himself, only to commit an obvious lane violation and cough up the ball (and the game).
On a night when the Thunder lost to the Wizards, Philly to Denver at home, the Magic to the previous road-winless Spurs in Orlando and the Knicks at home to the Suns, I suppose it's not that surprising that the Pacers lost this one. However, the way they lost it was most concerning. DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points and 19 rebounds (including a ridiculous 12 on the offensive end), showing why the Kings have been willing to put up with the knucklehead's antics on and off the court. Sure, the Pacers were missing Jeff Foster (out a couple of weeks with that nagging back of his), but the lack of effort in the fourth was simply brutal out there.
Despite having 3 days off, the Pacers looked lethargic for much of the game, which they thought they could afford to be considering they were easily the better team -- at least on paper. They grabbed a 5 point lead at the half and turned it up in the 3rd to go up by 14 entering the fourth, but everything fell apart for them in the final 12 minutes. Hibbert was in foul trouble. Paul George kept turning the ball over. Granger missed his shots (well, I guess that's not unusual) and Collison had no choice but to throw up difficult shots as the zone defense confused the heck out of the team.
So much for talking up themselves as being a "team to be reckoned with" and "the best kept secret" in the NBA. I kept saying the biggest difference this season is that the Pacers are winning games they would have otherwise lost in past seasons -- but I'm still scratching my head over how they lost this one. I don't even think the non-playoff Pacers teams of old could blown a lead like this against a struggling team like the Kings.
Of course, it is only one game, and things like this happen during the season, especially one as strange and truncated as this one, but the truth is, while the Pacers are clearly better than they were in previous seasons, they aren't quite as good as they think they are. At least not yet. The early cupcake schedule coupled with a couple of wins against the geriatric Celtics had their heads in the clouds.
Hopefully this will be another wake up call and a reminder that they can't take any team lightly. Up in a couple of days is the Golden State Warriors, a team that scares me even without Stephen Curry simply because the Pacers can't guard Monta Ellis. Maybe a combination of George Hill (speed) and Paul George (length) can provide some success this time. It's also going to be a reunion of sorts -- Brandon Rush and Lou Amundson face off against the teams that traded them.
And so the stage is set: Will the Pacers get to their 10th win or will the Warriors prevent their 10th loss?