After dropping a 110-87 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday afternoon, the Indiana Pacers are left with playoff hopes base solely on math. Until they are mathematically eliminated there will always be that hope.
Unfortunately, the Pacers play on Sunday was utterly hopeless.
This was a 30-point loss regardless of the late buckets and official 23-point deficit. As they did in Atlanta on Friday, the Pacers didn't show up to compete in the second half. Two games in a row with nothing for their opponent in the second half?
Suddenly the Pacers feel like they are heading for a free fall to finish the season. After putting forth a huge effort and outworking better teams much of the year just to give themselves a chance to win, maybe they've finally worn down mentally. Every team is worn down physically at this time of the year, but with their slight margin for error, the Pacers can't win through any mental fatigue.
An indicator of this type of change has been Jarret Jack's struggles in the past couple of games after playing some of the best basketball of his career. During that stretch over the past couple of months, Jack played as tough and as hard as he knows how; never shying away from a play and pulling the trigger on open shots without hesitation.
Now Jack admits that he's thinking a bit too much and lost that confidence that allowed him to let it rip and just play without, well, thinking. While playing so great over the past two months, Jack was also playing a ton of minutes. Fatigue does funny things to the mind and the games it plays with the body.
Jack was speaking for himself but in a general sense, he very well could've included the whole team as part of his lament. They haven't been able to put together a decent win streak all season and now when they desperately need a string of wins, instead they begin a losing streak which includes two of the worst losses so far this season. While inconsistent play has hurt the Pacers all year, effort has rarely been an issue as it has in the past two games. If the inconsistent effort continues for the remainder of the year, this season will end in a quiet, disappointing fashion for the Pacers.
The NBA season is a marathon and the Pacers appear to have hit a 22-mile wall. That's usually when the mind and body barter over how to handle the remaining 4.2 miles of the race. Glory and accolades are the first thing off the bargaining table. What's left is a deal to simply finish.
Here are a few thoughts from the actual game:
- The Raptors wore their green St. Patty's Day uniforms which put the Pacers in their home whites. Maybe the Pacers thought they were playing the Celtics. It took some time to get used to the Raptors at home in green.
- Danny Granger returned to play about 18 minutes and looked pretty good moving around. He shot the ball poorly, though, eventually jacking up seven 3-balls and only making one. He was 3-11 from the field and finished with 10 points.
- Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Andrea Bargnani has big games for the Raptors. Both big guys hurt the Pacers in different ways. Bargnani did his Mehmet Okur impression knocking down 9 of 11 shots, including 3-3 from 3-land, to finish with 27 points. Pops had a career-high 21 points which doesn't account for the energy he brought to the Raptors front court. He made the Pacers look silly a couple of times.
- Roy Hibbert didn't play until the Pacers were down 23 points with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. I assume this was because Hibbert didn't match up well against the Raptors front court. But, since the Raptors front court torched the Pacers much of the day, could he have been that much worse an option? Plus, I agree Roy struggles to defend, but he could present some problems for the Raptors with his offense. The Pacers could've forced the Raptor bigs to play a little defense themselves.
- Shawn Marion had two spectacular dunks which put a signature on this win for the Raptors. It also put a signature on the loss for the Pacers. It will take some scrubbing to remove Marion's footprints from Granger's chest on his first flying finish.