The Indiana Pacers fell victim to a new set of problems in their home opener on Friday night.
The home team struggled to find any rhythm or a lineup that would work against the Miami Heat, trailing the whole way in the 96-83 loss. Jim O'Brien juggled lineups and tried to find a winning combination but regardless of which five he put on the court, the team could never get in sync on both ends of the court.
Credit has to go to the Heat for their defensive effort in denying the Pacers many good looks. The Pacers struggled to make the open shots they did find, only making 37% of their shots on the night. In the second half, particularly, the Pacers defense stepped up and was able to earn some much needed stops, but the battle for points continued as the Heat applied pressure on the shooters.
The Heat also rode their two horses with Jermaine O'Neal showing up big with 22 points and 12 rebounds and Dwyane Wade ho-humming his way to 32 points with 3 steals. As Jim O'Brien mentioned after the game, J.O. gave the Pacers' young bigs a lesson tonight as both Roy Hibbert and Solo Jones struggled to keep up with the former Pacer.
After the game, both Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones shared the same thoughts. They were frustrated but not deterred. Granger even mentioned that after two games there was no need to panic. They simply aren't comfortable playing with each other and they missed a lot of shots. Granger struggled to find his rhythm which was evident by his 6-20 shooting night, including just 3-12 from behind the arc.
JOB also tried to diminish any conclusions one might draw from the how he dished out the minutes.
Dahntay Jones, Earl Watson and Luther Head all played more minutes off the bench than backcourt starters T.J. Ford and Brandon Rush. Solomon Jones played nearly twice as much as Roy Hibbert. But then again, they should've played more minutes because the bench brigade was far more effective than the starters.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Pacers down 17 and the Heat on the verge of a knockout, the Pacers showed some life, played some defense and fought like hell to find a way to score. Why so tough to score? Well, the lineup fighting like hell was comprised of Solo, Luther, Dahntay, Earl and Troy Murphy. Eventually, JOB added Danny Granger to the mix but JOB stuck with the feisty backcourt the rest of the way. They were able to cut the lead to ten but could never get close enough to have a shot at the win.
Still, simply look at the +/- numbers for Dahntay (+3), Earl (-1) and Luther (+7) and it reveals that they held their own against Wade and the Heat. Even while they were holding their own though, it seemed like something was missing and until the Pacers figure out which ingredients are missing they will continue to struggle.
- While Solo Jones looked like a young JO, hitting a couple of mid-range shots, the real thing gave Solo fits in the second half eventually sending him to the bench mumbling. Before Solo left, though, JO hit a patented fade away and then hit Pacers beat writer Mike Wells with a wink and a smile on the way back down the court.
- The Pacers' first quarter offense was a disaster. JOB shuffled in several players but by the end of the quarter simply getting a shot off was a challenge. Seriously. On the final two possessions of the quarter, Solo Jones cashed in a rebound of an air ball just before the shot clock expired. Then Dwyane Wade stuffed Granger twice twenty four feet from the hoop before the shot clock buzzed again.
- Jim O'Brien insisted that T.J. Ford could play the necessary defense but that the team he had on the floor was playing well so he left them out there to finish the game. As he put it, if the starters dig a hole and the reserves dig out of the hole then he will stay with the reserves.
- Brandon Rush only played 12 minutes and while JOB avoided a direct question about Rush he did make a comment about Dahtay Jones that shines a light on Rush's struggles. According to JOB, Dahntay is not an offensive playmaker yet, but he has the mentality that he needs to make plays. Translation: Yes, Dahntay's wild drives to the hole can drive me nuts, but at least he's making a strong and confident basketball play regardless of the outcome. Same can't be said for Rush.
- Things were so bad for this opener even the halftime act ended up at the hospital. One of the BMX bikers performing a jumping exhibition crashed and was eventually taken off the floor on a stretcher. Not exactly the Fantasy Factory at the Fieldhouse tonight.