It's about time to issue a warning: Follow the Indiana Pacers at your own risk.
On any given night, their play may force your heart to stop intermittently or your brain to go numb. You may pull a hammy dancing with joy, or become life-less, depressed pile of bones as the buzzer sounds.
Against the San Antonio Spurs tonight, all of the above side effects were felt as the Pacers rallied from a 13-point second quarter deficit to take a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter.
From there, the heart fluttered, mind froze, dancing ceased and depression set in after T.J. Ford's potential game-winning jump shot was just wide right, allowing the Spurs to escape with a win, 100-99.
Just when the expectations for the Pacers sink, as they did after last night's double-digit loss to Memphis, the team puts together an effort to draw you back into and actually have you thinking win...on the road...at San Antonio. It was all there for the taking early in the fourth quarter.
But you could feel the Spurs mounting an attack, plus the Pacers' recent history made a late run by the Spurs standard operating procedure. Once the Spurs made their run to make it a one possession game with five minutes left to play, I began to wonder if this would be a repeat of Orlando where the Pacers would shut down offensively while the Spurs methodically pulled away.
The Spurs biggest lead would be three points with three minutes to go. But a dunk by Brandon Rush and a near-miraculous tip by Roy Hibbert gave the Pacers points on consecutive possessions and a one-point lead with a minute to go.
Nope, no fade tonight, just a missed opportunity.
After weathering a couple of Tim Duncan offensive rebounds, the Pacers had the ball and the lead with 33 seconds to go. After using up some clock, T.J. Ford missed one of his patented little 12-foot fade away jumpers, leaving the Spurs 10 seconds to win the game.
Naturally, the Spurs went to Duncan. Roy Hibbert met Duncan at the rim and stuffed the Hall of Famer's first offering. But Duncan quickly took the rejecting and jammed it home. Spurs up one with four seconds left.
Once again, the Pacers went to Ford to be the hero, clearing out for the point guard to work from the top of the key. It appeared he had George Hill off-balance and rose up for a clean 16-footer which helplessly clanked of the right side of the rim. Depression.
Plenty of thoughts and observations from this one:
- For starters, why go with T.J. Ford down the stretch? Pretty good question, but T.J. was a catalyst, making the Pacers go through much of the second half. Ford was playing off the bench, with Earl Watson starting, but he had a nice offensive flow going much of the night. Plus, he's made that type of shot in the past and Mike Dunleavy was off all night and didn't play much in the second half.
- As mentioned above, Jim O'Brien shook up his starting lineup, moving Ford and Brandon Rush to the bench to start Watson and Dahntay Jones. The team jumped out to a solid start in the first quarter, but a late 9-2 run to end the first quarter, with mostly bench players on the floor, nullified the good start.
- Things switch in the second half, when the second unit played the Pacers back into the game. T.J. Ford ended up playing more minutes than Watson.
- Roy Hibbert had moments of brilliance at the offensive end. The Spurs didn't feel the need to double Hibbert much and the big fella took his time and made them pay, even squaring up and scoring over Tim Duncan with a solid move in the lane. Hibbert's presence was felt at the defensive end as well, especially late with a couple of big blocks. Hibbert finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks.
- Brandon Rush played a lot of minutes off the bench, as well. His play was up and down as usual, but he was hardly floating. Although, floating would've been better than the end result of a few possessions Rush botched. His baseline back-cut for a dunk late in the game was sweet and gave the Pacers a boost to eventually reclaim the lead.
- Troy Murphyhad his shot going early and finished with 21 points on 8 of 13 from the floor. Murph was saddled with fouls as he struggled to defend Duncan at times.
- Tyler Hansbroughwas in the mix during the Pacers late second quarter run which helped set up a late third quarter run, also involving Hansbrough, to give the Pacers the lead. The rook finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds with a few blips along the way. Actually, one was more than a blip. After being hung out to dry guarding Richard Jeffersonon the wing, RJ crossed-up Hansbrough and left him leaning in cement sneakers as Jefferson threw down a pretty reverse dunk. Wasn't a poster dunk, because Hansbrough would've been out of the picture.
- The Pacers caught a break with the Spurs missing 15 free throws. Tony Parker missed five of his 12 attempts.
- Life doesn't get any easier for the Pacers as they head home for a day before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, followed by a quick trip to Boston to play the Celtics on Tuesday.
- Jeff Foster played a few minutes before retiring for the night with more back issues.
- Luther Head took advantage of some rare playing time to provide a nice spark for the Pacers, as he has done in the past. Luther had 9 points on 6 shots and once again made a case for more playing time.