I won't lie. I thought the Indiana Pacers were going to embarrass themselves again against the San Antonio Spurs, but they actually put up a respectable effort and led by 17 points before the inevitable comeback, ending with a 104-97 loss.
A loss is a loss but at least it showed that the Pacers can compete with one of the best and most efficient teams in the league at both ends of the floor. A long way go still, but it's encouraging to see the Pacers slowly turning their season around.
David West led the way with 22 points while Paul George had 15. Roy Hibbert was 5-18 and finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds to go with 2 blocks, but was dominated by the ageless Duncan, who had 22 and 17 on 10-19 shooting. Tony Parker, whom the Pacers could have drafted instead of Jamaal Tinsley, led all scorers with 33.
Perhaps the most positive sign for the Pacers was DJ Augustin leading the Pacers with 8 assists to go with his 8 points. The dude has been gutter awful all season and this is hopefully a sign of better things to come.
The Pacers next face the 7-7 Lakers at Staples and it will take a damn near miracle to get a win, though I am much more confident than I was before this game against the Spurs.
I know, I know. A win is a win. That's what we've been saying all season as the Pacers continue to struggle.
But at least it has been exciting to watch for fans who like their games to go down to the wire.
Once again, the Pacers needed to go all out to top a supposedly lottery team missing a key piece. On the back of Roy Hibbert's first career triple-double (10 points, 11 rebounds and a career high 11 blocks) and a career scoring night from Paul George (37 points, including 33 and a Reggie Miller record-breaking 9 three-pointers after half time), the Pacers somehow managed to squeeze by a New Orleans Hornets team missing no. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis in OT, 115-107. With the victory, the Pacers earned their first winning streak of the season and improved with 6-7, including a 4-1 record at home.
For the majority of the night, it looked like another one of those games, where an inferior opponent would out-execute and out-hustle the Pacers to a win the Pacers should have in the bag. Every time the Pacers decided to rely on their talent to go on a run, the Hornets answered by getting to the offensive rebounds and loose balls. I lost count the number of times when I thought the game was effectively safe, but only to have the Pacers go complacent and allow the Hornets back in the game.
On the whole, it was a game that demonstrated that the Pacers still have a long way to go before getting anywhere close to becoming the type of team they were last season -- BUT they appear to be on the right track towards getting there, eventually.
It was a night where Frank Vogel had to rely on his starters again, as newcomers Gerald Green, Ian Mahinmi and DJ Augustin still haven't figured out how make an impact. When Tyler Hansbrough is your best bench guy (11 points, 9-10 from the line including the 4 icing free throws), you know your team is in trouble.
The biggest positives to take away from the game are:
what appears to be an increasingly confident Roy Hibbert. After putting up a season high 20 and 12 the game before, he still struggled with his shot but helped out in other areas of his game tonight with the impressive triple-double -- that's a very encouraging sign and one can only hope his confidence won't be shattered again in the next two games against the Spurs and the Lakers;
Paul George going nuts. Seriously, he hit everything in that second half. Obviously, it's likely to be a once-off kind of thing, but if it can spur him on to more consistent performances that would be just the thing the Pacers need;
George Hill and David West playing solid for 16 points apiece. I still think less Hill and more West is preferable for the Pacers' offense though;
Lance Stephenson continuing to be a valuable piece, to everyone's surprise. 12, 5 and 5 on 5-9 shooting, and some of the best exaggerated mid-game celebrations of all time, including some red-cheek inducing ass slaps;
a season high 115 points (though it took OT to get there) shows the offense is improving. Still a lot of room for improvement but a lot less unwatchable than it has been; and
only 8 turnovers (which must also be a season low), and 26 assists on 40 field goals. Damn, I am getting unnecessarily excited.
Pacers fans can rejoice for now after an exciting win with big games from two of its stars. But I will be really surprised if the Pacers can pull out wins in their next two games. One can always hope, I suppose.
It should never have come down to it, but a win is a win, even if it was an ugly one against the winless Washington Wizards.
The Indiana Pacers somehow managed to squander a 20-point lead in the third quarter before David West activated beast mode in the fourth, scoring 13 of his season-best 30 points, including 4 of the team's last 5 field goals (he assisted on the 5th one to Roy Hibbert), to give the Pacers a hard fought 96-89 road victory. For the game, West shot 10-14 from field, 10-10 from the line and had 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks.
The other encouraging news is that Roy Hibbert finally broke out of a season-long slump to pour in 20 points and 12 rebounds to go with 4 blocks despite battling foul trouble. It's not a spectacular performance but it's better than anything we've seen from Roy since signing that max contract.
The truth is, while the Pacers will take any win they can get right now, this was still an awful performance. When your team needs to rely on a 32-year-old a year removed from ACL surgery to carry them down the stretch to a tight victory against the worst team in the league missing their two best players (John Wall and Nene), that says a lot about where the Pacers are right now.
Fact is, the West and especially Hibbert won't play like this every night. Paul George, who is supposed to be having a breakout year, had only 6 points and appears to actually be regressing, while George Hill continues to be wildly inconsistent. Gerald Green has been okay at times, but DJ Augustin and Ian Mahinmi have been outright disasters thus far.
Augustin has been so much (so so so so so much) worse than the guy he replaced, Darren Collison, that it's not even funny anymore. Calling Mahinmi a poor man's Lou Amundson might actually be a compliment. That's how bad things are for them right now. The bench stinks and that's that.
Are there any answers? Not really. You can expect the team to play better as a unit eventually (because it can't get much worse) but it's a stretch to think that they can suddenly rise into the elite having played like turds all season. Frank Vogel has to take some of the blame because the team has to much talent to be the worst offensive team in the league.
Their series win against a Dwight Howard-less Magic and taking the partly Bosh-less Heat to 6 games appears to have given the team a false sense of hope and entitlement. They thought they would just have to come back this season and the second seed would be theirs. Oops.
Fortunately, the Pacers get another decent opportunity to get a win against the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday before facing the Spurs and the Lakers (two games that could get really nasty). Here's to hoping that they can string together their first winning streak of the entire season.
Remember when the Knicks and Pacers used to be a heated rivalry? Yeah, I missed those days too.
Right now, however, the Knicks are in a different class. One team had only lost one game all season. The other was 4-6. They have Carmelo Anthony, and the closest thing the Pacers have (had) is Danny Granger, who remains out with a knee injury.
So the result was not unexpected, although I was hoping the Pacers would have been able to make more of a game out of it. The final score was 88-76, but it wasn't close after half time.
Disappointing, considering the Pacers finally put together a strong effort before that against the Mavs.
On the bright side, they have a great chance to bounce back again against the winless Wizards.
Things couldn't have gotten much worse for the Pacers, so it was good to see them get an easy win against a team they have been very incestuous with, the Dallas Mavericks (103-83).
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle used to be the Pacers' head coach. Former Pacers head coach Jim O'Brien is now an assistant coach for the Mavs. Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones from the Pacers effectively went to the Mavs for Ian Mahinmi during the offseason. And Troy Murphy, who is now a Mav, also used to be on the Pacers. Oh, plus OJ Mayo and Chris Kaman were guys that the Pacers targeted during free agency but ended up in Dallas.
Anyway, it wasn't so much a win as the WAY the Pacers achieved the win. Coach Vogel challenged the team to make changes and make plays for each other, and they responded by scoring 103 points, their second most of the season. George Hill and David West had 15 points apiece to lead 6 players in double figures. Sam Young and Lance Stephenson also both played well, but Roy Hibbert continued to struggle with his shot, even though he ended up with 14 and 8.
Hibbert is still missing point blank shots he should be making in his sleep, but his effort and persistence have been encouraging. Hopefully this is a step forward for him and the team, but I think we need a larger sample to be certain that the team has gotten over the hump. The next game is on the road against the New York Knicks, who only lost their first game of the season today against Memphis. It's got disaster written all over it but if the Pacers can pull out a win or even just give a good showing it will prove that this game against the Mavs wasn't a fluke and the team is heading in the right direction.