The future for the Indiana Pacers looked bright on Wednesday night. The present? Not so much.
LaMarcus Aldridge opened the game with 10-straight points, putting the Portland Trail Blazers up 10-6 early. The Pacers fought from behind the rest of the way, even tied the score at 83-83 midway through the fourth quarter, before Brandon Roy took control, allowing the Blazers to cruise home to a win, 102-91.
Maybe it was the low expectations heading into the game, but I can't get too exercised over the Pacers letting this game go down the stretch in their first outing without Danny Granger. Part of that is the play of A.J. Price and Tyler Hansbrough, but more on that later.
I just can't complain about the effort from the Pacers. Yes, they shot poorly (41.3%) but they scrapped for extra possessions grabbing 15 offensive rebounds. The ball and player movement was far more consistent than it has been and resulted in a number of easy buckets around the rim which was a pleasure to watch.
Plus, it's not like the Pacers forgot about Roy (Brandon, the Portland Roy) down the stretch. He simply made some great shots with a hand or two in his face, putting the game out of reach with ten of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. One time he shot through three defenders...swish. BRoy was the best player on the court and played like it at winning time.
For the Pacers, Jim O'Brien went with his rested veterans down the stretch after the rookie-led second unit kept the Pacers in the game. The vets didn't execute well enough to win, but the reality of the situation was that there was simply no option in blue and gold to match what BRoy had going.
After the jump, more thoughts on how the game played out and the positives that made the game enjoyable to watch.
- Let's start with the rookies, because I'm sure some are upset with how they were used, but that's just because they played so well. Both A.J. Price and Tyler Hansbrough were playing in the late third quarter and early fourth quarter when the Pacers tied up the game, offering a little hope for a win. Price was rock steady all night despite a poor shooting night. He simply plays like he belongs on the court. Price's stat line isn't impressive with only 4 points, 2 assists and 3 rebounds, but he also only had one turnover in his 16-plus minutes. Good things happened while he was on the court, evident by the only positive +/- in the Pacer lineup (+7).
- Hansbrough brought his lunch pail and hard hat, playing well past his previous 16-minute limit with 22 minutes of burn. He took advantage of the time to post his first double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He also had three assists including a beautiful, if unlikely dime out of the high post to Jeff Foster for a bunny at the rim. Hansbrough does a good job moving the ball from the high post as long as his teammates do their part and move without the ball. Hansbrough spent the end of the game on the bench looking like a golden retriever poised to chase a tennis ball. The warmup jacket was off and he was ready to go, but JOB went with the vets.
- After the game, JOB mentioned that along with the minutes Hansbrough played, he also feels the rook has more to learn before he's ready for winning time and that his pick n' roll defense still leaves them exposed. That's why Hansbrough wasn't tapped to return to the game. Not sure even JOB believes his line of reasoning to the question, but the reality is, the coach managed the rotation quite well. The vets just didn't have enough for Brandon Roy and believe me, the rookies wouldn't have either. Besides Hansbrough would've had to play 17-straight minutes and Price 15-straight minutes if left in to finish the game. They certainly aren't ready for that type of burn.
- Dahntay Jones did a little bit of everything but ended up frustrated in the second half after dealing with foul trouble and worse BRoy much of the night. Jones helped the Pacers hang in early with 13 first half points, but couldn't get it going in the second half. Still, he finished with a team-high 19 points.
- Brandon Rush had spurts of good, bad and indifferent as he split time with Luther Head. The pair combined for 17 points. Head was steady on offense while Rush was a better matchup for the Pacers on defense. Rush did have a couple of great finishes, including a beautiful baseline reverse with the left hand. As usual with Rush, he made it look so simple that your left pounding your head against the wall.
- LaMarcus Aldridge was a beast at times for the Blazers killing the Pacers with his nice mid-range shooting touch. He scored ten-straight to open the game right over Murphy. Go ahead and make fun of Murph's defense, but most of those buckets were fade-away shots from LMA with Murph's hand in his face. Aldridge was just too long and had no problem shooting over the smaller Murphy. Not sure why Portland didn't continue to run things through LMA whenever possible. Aldridge finished with 20 points.
- T.J. Ford had some good and bad as well, playing quite well to begin the third quarter including great on-ball pressure which gave Steve Blake fits. Overall though, there was nothing down the stretch and a couple of first half turnovers made me turn my head.
- Earl Watson was inactive against the Blazers due to a strained hamstring that has been bothering him, which opened up the minutes for A.J. Price off the bench.
- Roy Hibbert only played 18 minutes but late in the second quarter he hurt his shoulder while taking a foul. He did return to play a bit in the third quarter, but stayed on the bench down the stretch. Hopefully the shoulder is fine because the Pacers will need his presence against Brook Lopez on Friday.