I seriously thought they had this one in the bag. The Pacers thought they had too, which is why they allowed the Orlando Magic, who stunned Western Conference leaders OKC on a buzzer-beating dunk a couple of nights ago, to come all the way back from a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to take a 7-point lead with 5 minutes to go. The Pacers bench was responsible for the early lackluster play in the quarter, but even when Frank Vogel returned the starters the momentum was clearly on Orlando's side.
The Pacers couldn't get calls or make shots down the stretch, and yet they still had several opportunities to tie or take the lead and managed to pull within 3 points with 25 seconds to go. A jump ball between Glen Davis and David West gave a lucky bounce to George Hill, who sprinted down the other end of the court to flush down the 2 points and bring the Pacers back within 1.
The Magic then had difficulty inbounding the ball and eventually the Pacers stole the pass. Instead of looking for the open man, Paul George decided to play hero and take on three Magic defenders by himself with a pull-up 20-footer that hit nothing but air. He may have been fouled -- that was at least what he was trying to draw -- but if there was any contact it appeared to be fairly incidental. David West couldn't get his hands on the airball and the game was over, 93-92.
To be fair, George did have the relative hot hand in pulling the Pacers back into the game as he finished qith 27 points on 10-19 shooting and added 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Lance Stephenson, returning from his sore lower back, had 16 points, 9 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals, but also committed 5 of the Pacers' 15 turnovers. David West had 14, George Hill had 12, but no one else on the team scored in double figures. Hibbert hit 3 of 4 shots but finished with just 6 points (with 7 boards and 4 blocks), the fourth consecutive game he has failed to hit double figures.
A really disappointing loss because the Pacers appeared to have wrapped this one up, but they took the Magic lightly and only have themselves to blame. Not every team is Portland or Miami, but the Pacers need to be up for every team every night as they are guaranteed to get their best shot. Falling to 39-11 on the season, the Pacers also missed a great opportunity to put some more distance between themselves and the Miami Heat, who lost to Utah last night as they continue their extended West coast road trip.
The Pacers will play the Nuggets tomorrow night back home, sans Ty Lawson, who broke a rib against the Bucks. They were dominated in Denver a few weeks ago so they need to be ready to come out with energy to have a chance on the second night of a back-to-back.