With the dominating discussion coming into the game being more about what kind of impact Tyler Hansbrough would have in his first start of the season rather than the kind of outcome a seemingly overmatched Pacers team would have against one of the league’s best, it’s a bit of a surprise the discussion leaving a game with an expected result and a career night from Hansbrough wouldn’t be all about him.
In fact, the play of Tyler Hansbrough, who finished the night with career highs in points and rebounds (23-12 respectively), seemed to be just the missing puzzle piece as patented play from #50 fueled the Pacers to a 15-point lead as the third quarter drew to a close. The lead itself may have been a surprise, but the way the team got there was not. Hansbrough led a flurry of active Pacers and did a great job keeping the Spurs at bay all night, matching run for run through three quarters.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter wasn’t so kind. As seems almost clockwork, the Pacers fell apart down the stretch, and let a superior opponent walk away with a win they otherwise wouldn’t have rights to. As soon as the Pacers built their lead, San Antonio guard Gary Neal scored seven quick points to fuel a 10-0 run that cut the lead immediately down to five.
In fact, the Pacers didn’t get a point up for the first three and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, a stretch they went 0-4 from the field and committed two turnovers. Mike Dunleavy broke the team out of their funk by drawing a makeshift foul for three shots. Behind five points from Dunleavy, the Pacers pushed the lead back to nine. Unfortunately, Dunleavy’s field goal would not only be the single made FG for the Pacers in the quarter, but the last registered FG for the team for over three and a half minutes.
It’s hard enough to win against good teams when you aren’t making shots, imagine the difficulty when you aren’t even taking shots. Regardless, Darren Collison managed to draw fouls effectively, scoring the last six points of the game for Indiana, all from the free throw line. Despite all the struggles, the Pacers clung to a three point lead as Danny Granger drew a foul and went to the line for two.
Manu Ginobili had caused Granger a great deal of grief all night, something that appeared to carry over to his only two FT attempts. The Pacers went to the line up three, and came away from the line up four, the one FT being made a technical free throw from Darren Collison. Granger missed both. Just three seconds later, George Hill was at the line completing a three point play to cut the lead to just one point.
Ginobili would eventually put the Spurs on top with fifteen to go, and another disconcerting problem managed to turn its head. Roy Hibbert once again struggled from the field, but did so with some noticeably poor shots taken before he was ready to take them. With four seconds on the clock, Hibbert flipped up one of those shots, and clanked terribly off the rim, effectively ending the night, despite the team getting one last crack thanks to James Posey’s .8 seconds of work, a corner three just off.
It’s frustrating to let another one of these games go. Another big lead slipped away, a wasted night from Tyler Hansbrough, some really crummy play down the stretch from all involved parties. It’s in season to blame every loss on Jim O’Brien, but let’s not do that tonight and say we did. While O’Brien isn’t clean for some of his decisions, there’s very little he has to do with a team going 1-15 from the field in an entire quarter; with your best player missing two free throws with time winding down. This loss was a team effort in the fourth quarter.
After the jump, more on a loss in such familiar fashion:
- Tyler Hansbrough was the player of the game. By leaps and bounds. If the goal was to prove everybody in the world wrong about Hansbrough’s ability to be a difference maker in the NBA, it was answered tonight and the results were very positive. While 23 points and 12 rebounds aren’t going to be the norm with Tyler, the way he lifted his teammates and was able to bring out the best in each of his teammates leaves a good impression on an otherwise awful finish.
- Darren Collison struggled from the floor, but really came through for the Pacers down the stretch. The best thing to come out of the fourth quarter was Collison’s demeanor. As the Pacers went with each and every point as a premium investment, Collison’s play at the free throw line was huge. Each of his free throws had life or death consequences, and he calmly sunk every single one. At least there’s that?
- Danny Granger had a hat trick of three pointers to cap off his 15 points, but Manu Ginobili got into his head all night. Granger picked up his fifth foul with a few minutes remaining, and was immediately pulled. The Pacers’ next two possessions were turnovers, and Granger was inserted after the next time out. He never seemed comfortable, but his drive to the basket was nice to see, but not the results at the line.
- Roy Hibbert finished with 14 boards, but went just 5-17 from the field, a number that got worse with each shot he took. Throughout the night, Hibbert found the ball with limited time on the clock and every single time, the shot was rushed to the point of unwatchable. It became increasingly clear as the game progressed that Hibbert wasn’t quite ready to be taking shots with no time on the clock. So of course, how did he end up with the ball with four seconds left in the game and the Pacers down just one? The end result was almost certain, and sure enough, it wasn’t pretty.
- Again, pinning this loss on Jim O’Brien is irresponsible and ill informed. While minor rotation changes (i.e. replacing Ford with Collison earlier in the fourth or not running the Collison/Ford duo to the tune of two possessions/two turnovers) can be laid at his feet, the entire team has to take this on their shoulders. The coach can’t be blamed for awful play of this regard.
The Pacers fall to 14-19, a record that could just as easily be flipped with more consistent play, and will have little time to lament letting this one get away as they get to travel south to face one of their biggest Achilles Heels; the Atlanta Hawks. While it feels like the Pacers haven’t won a game against Atlanta since Reggie Miller’s game winner missed in Game 5 of the 1996 playoffs, it’s actually only been the last eight games. Wait, only? Basically, it doesn’t get any easier.
Elsewhere, Philadelphia's win over Chicago tonight pulls them with half a game of Indiana for seventh in the Eastern Conference. Keep underachieving, Indiana!