Following a strong first half from the starters, the Pacers came out sans Josh McRoberts and laid an egg. The Magic decided it was time to close the game out, and they made it happen. The Pacers weren’t prepared to play a championship caliber team at full speed. Suddenly, Dwight Howard’s three first half fouls didn’t matter. Suddenly, playing perimeter defense on Vince Carter wasn’t important. The Pacers came back down to earth following a lot of good news this camp. We were reminded that, even in preseason, this team is still in transit.
The game started with great promise from the starting lineup and ended with growing confidence for all five 2009 and 2010 draft picks. The positive bookends surrounded a dreadful third quarter, but as the season opener draws closer, every step this team can take is a positive, even as the team’s strengths and weaknesses begin to come into focus.
In regards to team efforts, the team finished 4-17 from the three point line. The poor third quarter pulled down decent first half shooting numbers, but the 2-10 in the second half wasn’t much worse than the first half’s 2-7. The Pacers also found themselves short on rebounding yet again, giving up 13 offensive boards to the Magic.
The Pacers also only tallied 12 assists. There was plenty of movement when Darren Collison was on the floor, but the ball didn’t move much. Price and Stephenson didn’t help the cause at all. Ball movement is one of the major keys to easy baskets; teams will end up shooting 36% from the floor without it.
After the jump, breakdowns of everyone’s preseason effort, now that we had a visual aid to go alongside the box scores.
- Darren Collison gets the lead as the team’s best player tonight. Finishing with a team high 18 points, Collison was electric in the first half, making play after play. He brought the offense to life, and with blistering speed showed tremendous awareness with the ball. His ability to make plays both for himself and for his teammates was almost foreign to Pacers fans, and if this is him struggling in O’Brien’s system, I can’t imagine him succeeding.
- Danny Granger shot better in this game, but not by much. Finishing with 12 points and only 2 rebounds, his game tonight was far from perfect. In addition to being one of the many defensive breakdowns against Vince Carter and the Magic perimeter offense, Granger’s shooting touch did not come easily when he quick released shots. When getting a moment to gather himself, Granger found difficult shots dropping, but couldn’t get the same break on "gimmes" when he was catching and shooting.
- Roy Hibbert went to Dwight Howard early and often in this one, successfully getting the best big man in the league into early foul trouble. Obviously, the game plan would’ve changed in a regular season game, but Roy succeeded in that regard. He was at his best when beating his man and catching for an easy basket, but was noticeably worlds from Dwight defensively. Another positive effort, only knocked on the big fella’s fairly paltry four boards.
- Mike Dunleavy is still Mike Dunleavy defensively. He appears to still be Mike Dunleavy circa 2008 offensively, but doesn’t appear to fit with the starting lineup best for his strengths. The Pacers could use a guy who isn’t a waste defensively and who isn’t going to go to waste offensively (unless they have wasted their offensive abilities). Duns didn’t take his first shot until well into the third quarter, meanwhile, the second unit struggled to find offensive consistency while he was on the bench. With his very questionable defense, it’s curious what role he actually serves with scoring minded players like Granger, Collison, and Hibbert. Dunleavy isn’t going to benefit from being the fourth option on the court.
- Josh McRoberts will completely benefit, however, from being the fifth option on the court. Collison may have been the catalyst to the offense, but McRoberts’s hustle provided a foundation to help keep the offense churning. While he came back down to earth following a very good performance, Josh is primed to carve out a solid niche for himself this season, focusing on his strengths and minimizing the Pacers weaknesses. He left the game with a sore neck after taking a nice pop from Howard, and the starters didn’t look as comfortable without him on the floor. Congratulations, Josh! Irrelevant you no longer are!
- Paul George looked fine with his ball control, despite being pegged for two turnovers. His shot continued to be absent, but he found himself in good positions. He’s got a lot of work yet to do, but he’s showing worth to the team right now. Once his shot starts falling, he’ll be a real asset.
- Tyler Hansbrough finally got on the floor and showed improvement, but also showed that he is in fact a second year rookie. He wasn’t able to find a shot early, but compared to him forcing things last season, it was a nice change. He was moving everywhere, and remaining upright, gives a nice report to his vertigo. Given the alarm that had been raising due to his lack of 5-on-5 drills recently, it was great to see him close out the game strong…and on the line.
- Solomon Jones looked much like Solomon Jones. Solo doesn’t appear any better than he did last season where he was a marginal player for most of the season. He certainly wasn’t much of a standout, and given the depth of the front court, his role seems to be in serious question.
- James Posey played two games it seemed. While A.J. Price was leading the offense, Posey seemed content, with much of the second unit lineup, with waiting on the ball to come to them. He played wisely from beyond the arc, but didn’t do much else. When playing with Collison, he quickly became more assertive and active. For a guy like Posey, who knows what he is to be doing, his play may speak more about the PG leadership than elsewhere. Dare I say…T.J. Ford is being missed?
- A.J. Price had another great offensive game, scoring 15 points, including 9 trips to the line, cashing in on 8. His style of play is crystal clear: he’s a scoring PG, a contrast to Collison, but all the while, a necessity for a unit that needs scoring. Price seems to be aware of this as well. Price may not make his teammates better, but his scoring ability is much more sublime compared to guys like Posey or Brandon Rush, who can’t be called on to be big time scorers for extended time.
- Jeff Foster got some action with the starters to open the second half. His smart play and awareness helped out his teammates, which may be more of his role as he enters his 12th year with the team. The starting lineup looked more fluid with McRoberts than Foster, but Foster’s leadership cannot be discounted.
- Lance Stephenson got time towards the end of this one to show his stuff, and it was a mixed bag. He showed his abilities as an offensive threat, but gave a mostly poor defensive effort to help offset that. In one play in particular, Dwight Howard set a pick that Stephenson was absolutely unable to read. He didn’t spin around Howard, or switch his man, Stephenson simply plowed into him. He did make a couple of nice defensive plays when guarding SGs though. Lance is not a point guard. He works well with the ball, but he’s awkward in distribution, he can’t guard point guards, and he doesn’t show much awareness as a ball handler. Let’s please abandon this goal for a few years and groom him behind the scenes. I don’t need to see this train wreck.
- Magnum Rolle got some time as well in the end, during the great five draft pick finale, and was there all the way, making some nice plays, and showing that he could be a useful utility player for the Pacers moving forward.
T.J. Ford and Brandon Rush sat this one out with injury, and Dahntay Jones didn’t find any rotation time tonight. Interesting. The Pacers quickly turn around and travel to Houston to battle the Rockets tomorrow. It’d be nice if the Pacers can find their shooting and rebounding touch as the regular season draws closer.