The Indiana Pacers lost their first home game of the season to the Orlando Magic, 102-83. It was a letdown game after the big win in LA against the Lakers, but what was more disappointing was the way in which the team lost. After a stellar first quarter where they led 29-22, the Pacers fell apart the rest of the game, even with Dwight Howard on the bench with foul trouble for most of the second quarter. They gave up far too many open shots, threw away the ball with sloppy passes, and missed just about everything.
Ugly, ugly effort against a team that scored just 56 points the night before against the Celtics.
Roy Hibbert played with a face mask to protect his broken nose and led the way with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Granger had 16 and Collison chipped in with 11, but the team had no answers for Dwight Howard and the Magic's shooters and cutters.
So with what appeared to be a couple of steps forward after the close wins against the Warriors and Lakers, the Pacers have once again taken a big step back. So are they a genuine top 4 seed contender in the East or are they still pretenders? Your guess is as good as mine. On any given night they can be both.
The Pacers are now 11-5 to start the season, including 5-1 at home. The encouraging thing is that they've played most of their games on the road (10 road vs 6 home), but if they keep playing like this at home it's not going to make much of a difference.
Anyway, the Pacers go back on the road again for another 3 games, and it's going to be rough with the opponents being the Bulls tomorrow night, followed by Boston and then Orlando again. Could this be a 4-game losing streak in the making?
For some reason, I am quietly optimistc about the Bulls game. Luol Deng, who seems to give the Pacers fits, is out with a wrist injury, and Derrick Rose is apparently not 100%, though even a 70% Derrick Rose is 70% too much for most teams. Paul George better be ready. David West ought to give the Bulls something they haven't seen before in matching up against the 'softer' Carlos Boozer, and Tyler Hansbrough is set for a breakout game after recent struggles. I am hoping that this loss against the Magic will prompt the Pacers to ramp up their offense against the league's best defense.
As for the Celtics and Magic, I'm not so sure. It's hard to see the Pacers beat the Celts for the third time in a row, and this Magic team is full of matchup problems. That said, whenever I talk this Pacers team down, they surprise me, so let's hope they can again.
Today, the Indiana Pacers finished off their West coast road trip with a date with the LA Lakers.
Truth be told, all I was hoping for was not to have another embarrassment like what we witnessed in Miami a few weeks ago. I certainly did not expect the Pacers to beat the Lakers in LA, not with that imposing 9-1 home record (including 9 consecutive wins) and not with Kobe being Kobe.
But after falling behind early, the Pacers clawed, scratched, fought and chewed their way back into this one, and miraculously ended up winning 98-96 for by far their best victory of the season. I always say that this Pacers team is not as good as they think they are, but this amazing, well-deserved victory is starting to make me a believer of this team too. Sure, they are still going to have ugly nights (like the Miami game and that collapse in Sacramento), but a 11-4 record to start the season is beyond the wildest expectations of most fans.
Things certainly didn't look good in the first quarter, with the Lakers getting too many second chance opportunity, executing at both ends of the floor and even allowing Metta World Peace (don't think for a second that Pacers fans have forgotten about this man and what he almost single-handedly did to this franchise) to get off with one of his best performances of the season. At the first intermission the Pacers were down 27-14.
However, the Pacers did not give up and started improving their execution. Roy Hibbert was a beast down low. David West continued being aggressive. Dahntay Jones was, unlike the Dahntay we hate, playing like the Dahntay we love. By the time West sunk an unlikely fadeway three at the half-time buzzer, the Pacers were only down by 3.
The second half was a see-sawing event, punctuated by excellent team play by the Pacers and Kobe being Kobe (he finished with 33 points, most of them before the Pacers started doubling him to get the ball out of his hands). Still, Kobe managed to hit a fadeaway from the baseline at the third quarter buzzer to put the Lakers up 78-77 with 12 minutes to go.
I still believed the Pacers would falter in the fourth and allow the Lakers to run away with it. That's what I've been accustomed to over the last few years. But no. Even with some atrocious home officiating, a bloody broken nose for Hibbert and a few nerve-wracking offensive breakdowns, the Pacers refused to lose this one. A beautiful Hibbert pass to a cutting Collison put the Pacers up by a point. A missed shot at the other end led to two more free throws for Collison, putting the Pacers up by 3. Then Kobe missed a tough fadeaway three at the top of the key over the outstretched arms of Paul George, Granger hit a free throw, and Gasol scored on a putback on the buzzer to provide the final scoreline.
What a game and what a win.
Roy Hibbert has to get serious All-Star consideration this year. Despite the broken nose (suffered in the first quarter) he was this game's MVP (18, 8 and 4 on 9-13 shooting, and most importantly outplaying Andrew Bynum) and has been the team's best player thus far, and he almost single-handedly kept the Pacers in contention in the fourth quarter. Just take a look at the Pacers' field goals in the fourth quarter:
7:43 - Roy Hibbert makes layup
6:58 - Roy Hibbert makes 5-foot hook shot
6.15 - Roy Hibbert makes 5-foot hook shot
5:31 - Roy Hibbert assists on Darren Collison's three-pointer
4:11 - Paul George breakaway dunk (assisted by Darren Collison)
3:18 - Roy Hibbert assists on Danny Granger's driving layup
1:40 - Roy Hibbert makes 3-foot hook shot
1:15 - Roy Hibbert assists on Darren Collison's layup
That's right, apart from Paul George's fast break dunk on a broken play, Hibbert either scored or assisted on every single one of the Pacers' field goals in the fourth quarter (4 buckets and 3 assists). Now you tell me why the ball should not go into Roy Hibbert on just about every single half court play!!!!
David West continued his streak of manly aggressiveness on this road trip. 15 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and that big three to end the half. Not flashy but the dude was in beast mode. I just feel safe with the ball in his hands. I can't wait until he gets his legs and conditioning back to 100%. A season-high 40 minutes tonight indicates to me that he is almost there.
Danny Granger had another one of those "bad shooting (4-14 for 16 points) but big down the stretch" games (though he did miss a couple of key free throws). He had some bad calls go against him tonight but his defense was stellar. I can live with that from Granger as long as the Pacers win.
Darren Collison has had a bad run of late but he picked it up tonight with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in a more controlled performance. Of course, that go-ahead floater he hit over Kobe was the basket that won the game, and his calm free throws helped ice it.
Paul George had a strong outing with 13 points (5-8 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He got schooled by Kobe on numerous occasions (when will he ever learn to not jump on pump fakes?) but got the big stop when it mattered by forcing Kobe to take a tough three.
George Hill had 11 points in 19 minutes, but his impact felt greater. He did his best on Kobe (and was arguably the most effective) but got outmuscled whenever he had to guard World Peace. I love this guy and what he brings to the team.
Alrightee then. It's incredible to think that the Pacers could have gone 3-0 on this road trip (instead of 2-1) had it not been for that massive meltdown in Sactown. Then again, were it not for the lessons learned in that meltdown, maybe they wouldn't have pulled out those tough victories in Golden State and LA.
I'd like to say the road gets easier from here but it doesn't. Up next is a home game against the Orlando Magic and then another 3-game road trip, this time out East against the Bulls, Celtics and Magic again. None of the games will be easy, but you never know, especially if Bulls don't have Rose and the Celts don't have Rondo. The upcoming home game against Orlando will be HUGE because I don't imagine the Pacers winning both games against this Magic team. Perhaps they can prove me wrong yet again.
First the Celtics lose at home again (to the Suns), then the Bucks win in NYC the Lakers get pummeled by the Magic...and before the night is over Kevin Love hits a buzzer beating three-pointer from waaaay downtown to lead the Timberwolves to an unlikely comeback victory over the Clippers in LA (gotta love that Rubio kid too -- he was huge down the stretch).
Oh, and the Pacers had a huge night as well, escaping with a thrilling 94-91 victory against the Warriors in Golden State after that disappointing fourth quarter implosion against Sactown a couple of nights ago. The two teams have a lot of connections -- of course, Warriors coach Mark Jackson used to be the quarterback in Indy and led them to their own NBA finals appearance back in 2000; there was also that little-talked-about Brandon Rush for Lou Amundson trade in the offseason...and who could forget the game-winner Monta Ellis sank to break the Pacers' back last season?
The Pacers simply don't have anyone that can guard Monta Ellis, and plus they got Stephen Curry back from injury (always lethal). Throw in Nate Robinson, the little man the Pacers always seem to have trouble containing, and I was suddenly very nervous about this game.
It was a close one all the way through, thanks to the best shooting night of the season for Danny Granger (26 points on 10-16 shooting (including 3-3 from downtown) and the best rebounding night of Roy Hibbert's career (16 boards to go with 10 points), not to mention a look-like-he's-getting-his-legs-back David West (18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 7-12 shooting) -- but holy crap Monta Ellis was unstoppable, and Stephen Curry also chipped in with some big shots down the stretch, keeping the game at 91-91 with the clock winding down.
The Warriors had the supposed last possession of the game and the ball in Ellis's hands, which spelled trouble with a capital T. Everyone expected Ellis to blow by his man and flip up some incredible shot into the basket, and that probably would have happened had the man guarding Ellis not been George Hill (14 points on the night) -- who stripped (okay, maybe he kicked it a little) the ball from Ellis atop the three-point line and raced the length of the floor before banking in a layup with Curry fouling him. Hill calmly completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 3 point lead with less than 2 seconds to play, and the Pacers were very fortunate to dodge a bullet when Stephen Curry missed a wide open three at the buzzer.
With the victory, the Pacers improve to 10-4 for the season. Yes, it has been against crappy opponents for the most part but it's hard to be disappointed with how the record currently looks. Next up, the Lakers and a McBob reunion in LA.
tonight was the most aggressive I have seen West in a Pacers uniform. He demanded the ball and took charge against whoever the Warriors threw at him. The rust still caused a few bad shots and turnovers, but I love what I'm seeing from him;
Hibbert was so effective in the post against the Warrior's big men, which was baffling why they didn't give him the ball more often. The 16 boards is mightily impressive for a guy who had averaged less than 6 boards a game for his career entering tis season. He's gonna need to be at his best against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol against the Lakers;
Granger played well. Still forced a few shots but they went down for him tonight. Maybe things are finally turning around for him...
Darren Collison had a stinker and a half. Couldn't hit a shot (1-12) all game and struggled behind screens to keep up with his man. After a stellar start to the season Collison has put in a string of sub-par games. He's still their best PG though, so hopefully he can get his act together soon;
Amundson lost the battle against Rush. The porn-star lookalike missed all of his field goals in 5 minutes of game time (though he grabbed a rebound), while the pothead hit both of his threes for 6 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes. I still liked the trade though.
The toughest part of the schedule so far is looming -- @Lakers, Magic, @Bulls, @Celtics, @Magic (OUCH). The old Pacers would probably have gone 0-5 for this stretch, but I have confidence the new Pacers can pull out a couple of victories.
Embarrassing. That's the only way to describe the Pacers' loss to the Sacramento Kings tonight after being outscored 26-8 in the fourth quarter, giving up 30 offensive rebounds and falling to a (formerly) 4-10 team that shot 30.1% for the evening.
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?
I'd like to think the Celts aren't done and it's just that the Pacers are getting too good. Because despite their early struggles, I absolutely did not expect the Pacers to thump the Celtics again, 97-83, only a little over a week after they thumped them in Boston (87-74). And yet they did, and they made it look kinda easy.
Danny Granger bounced back from his embarrassing two-technical ejection against Toronto to lead the team with 21 points on 8-19 shooting, which is not bad considering how brutal he has been shooting the ball this season. But again, it was a total team effort. Darren Collison had 17, 4 and 4, Paul George had 17 and 8, and Roy Hibbert had 11 and 9. David West, George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough all contributed to a satisfying win which I fully expected them to lose after how ordinary they looked against the Raptors, Danny Granger or not.
The Pacers shot poorly again (37.2%), but they made up for it by taking 94 shots (!), made possible by their 20 offensive rebounds, 12 steals and 10 blocks. Boston, on the other hand, simply looked...old. Really old. The Pacers did a much better job on Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen this game (6 and 7 points, respectively) and forced Paul Pierce into another poor shooting night (5-12 for 21 points). On the whole they just had more energy, greater depth (only Collison and Granger played more than 30 minutes) and better execution. At this point, the Pacers are simply the better team, something even I can't believe I just typed.
The two teams match up again in Boston before the end of the month, and I guess we'll see for certain whether it's time to stick a fork in these former champs.
As for now, the Pacers get a long rest and won't play again until Wednesday, when they head west to face the Sacramento Kings. The Kings are currently 4-8 and will probably be 4-9 as they are being thumped by the Mavs right now. Still, it's not a game the Pacers can take lightly. Granger has historically done well against the Kings, so let's hope he can have another good shooting night to get his FG% back on track for the season.