After spending the day traveling yesterday, I spent plenty of time considering the late game lapses that have stung the Indiana Pacers lately. At thought that continued to surface is that the Pacers are struggling through an early-season identity crisis after dropping four of their last five games in frustrating fashion.
Three of the four past losses were games that saw the Pacers hold a lead and apparent control of the game at least through the first half only to lose their grasp on that control as the game moved to winning time in the fourth quarter.
As well as the Pacers have played at times during games, they seem to be hunting for just what to do and who to rely on with the game in the balance. The two most recent losses to Orlando and Miami highlighted the problem as the Pacers lost late leads to two teams that had established stars surrounded by playmakers with firmly cast roles.
While the Magic were going through their progression of talent, from Dwight Howard to Rashard Lewis to Jameer Nelson (who stepped up in the absences of a struggling Hedo Turkoglu), the Pacers were using a two-man game with T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic that didn't have the kinks worked out.
Against Miami, the Heat knew Dwyane Wade would take care of the heavy lifting, so Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley were ready to supplement when Wade drew too much attention. Down the stretch, the Pacers went through Marquis Daniels and Danny Granger with mixed results and too many turnovers. This time T.J. Ford wasn't involved due to his inconsistent play.
In the win against Atlanta, Marquis Daniels limited his shots (6 FGAs) and made a big impact on defense, helping to slow down Joe Johnson. In the two losses, Quisy had big offensive nights along with a more prominent role on offense (19 and 21 FGAs). Now Quisy was incredible in those losses, but he was playing a different role than in the win over Atlanta. With Mike Dunleavy out, Quisy has to play multiple roles right now, but that makes everyone's role vary from night to night as they search for what is working.
The Pacers schedule is too challenging right now to expect many Ws while they continue to learn on the fly. The only hope is that they can settle on learning from the failures to come back stronger. Jim O'Brien has confidence that his group is smart, tough-minded and willing to give themselves to the team.
Since the Pacers have shown how well they can play regardless of the opponent, JOB's team will have to put all of those characteristics to use to figure out a way to find a winning formula for the fourth quarter.