The Indiana Pacers were on a high heading into their game with the Jazz in Utah. They were on a four-game road winning streak, having beaten the Miami Heat, the LA Lakers, and were coming off a solid victory against the Sacramento Kings the night before. Even though they had a record of just 9-7, the Pacers were causing a buzz -- their fans are excited and people are starting to notice them.
Well, tonight was a terrific reality check, as the Pacers got smashed by the red hot Jazz, 110-88. They fell behind 35-17 in the first quarter and never recovered. Despite getting within 3 at the start of the second half, it never felt like the Jazz were seriously threatened.
Deron Williams tore up the Pacers with 24 points, 16 assists and 0 turnovers. All Jefferson dominated the paint with 17 and 10. Andre Kirilenko had 18 and 7, including 5 on the offensive end. It seemed like all the bounces went their way, but it was probably just because the Jazz hustled harder.
I know this was a game few expected the Pacers to win. Some said this was a schedule loss, as the Pacers were playing their third road game in a row and it was the second game of a back-to-back -- plus they were up against the Jazz, who were on a six-game winning streak and held one of the best records in the NBA. And Salt Lake is always one of the toughest places to play.
However, I think the way they lost this game was a good wake up call. Yes, the Pacers are improving and exceeding expectations, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. As coach Jim O'Brien said after the game: "The Jazz are right in the hunt in the West and we're trying to get a playoff spot. There's a world of difference between their franchise and ours right now."
The Pacers may surprise good teams every now and then, but there will be times when a team is simply too good for them. Tonight their opponent was one such team.
The Jazz are on fire at the moment. Deron Williams was always going to give the Pacers fits. He was too quick for Brandon Rush, who started the game guarding him, and he was too big and strong for Darren Collison. The Pacers had no answers for Williams as he collected 9 points and 9 assists in the first quarter alone.
But the rest of the Jazz were also outplaying the lethargic Pacers. Kirilenko spun around Granger for a two handed jam in the first quarter and kept beating the Pacers to the offensive glass. Al Jefferson was hitting long range jumpers. Actually, every Jazz was hitting their jumpers tonight. Forget the Pacers -- I doubt any team in the NBA could have beaten the Jazz tonight.
For the Pacers, Darren Collison led the way with 16 points, his quickness and aggresiveness giving Jazz defenders problems at times, but he also had 6 of the Pacers' 18 turnovers. Hibbert had 15 and 5, and Rush had 15. Granger, coming off a season high 37, only had 14 on 6 of 16 shooting.
Having said that, the Pacers remain on track for a playoff berth. They won't beat everyone every night, but they're still a much better team than people expected at the start of the season. Their next game is against the struggling Phoenix Suns (if you can call 8-9 struggling) and it's the last game of their road trip. It will be the second game of a back-to-back for the Suns, so maybe this can be a schedule win for the Pacers as they strive to improve their record to 10-8.