It doesn't count in the standings (thankfully), but it was great to see NBA basketball where the score was being kept and a winner and loser was decided. The Indiana Pacers opened the first of their two preseason games against the Chicago Bulls at Conseco Fieldhouse, entirely excited that all of the positive moves and momentum the young team had gained over the lockout summer (into fall) might finally show something.
Even though the game was preseason, the shortened and rushed focus of training camp into the regular season opener just ten days away, Coach Frank Vogel gave this game an honest regular season look, minus the team's free agent David West. The blue and gold picked up right where they left off in their playoff series with the very same Bulls team, quickly getting Chicago and Derrick Rose into foul trouble, storming out to a 33-22 first quarter lead, shooting 60% from the field.
Unfortunately, the defensive abilities of the Bulls stepped up big, in addition to the struggles to get anything to go in the basket for the Pacers, setting Indiana up to miss their first 15 field goal attempts and make just two for the entire quarter. The third quarter saw better execution and the fourth saw second quarter execution. Fifty-seven of Indiana's 86 points came in the first and third quarter, making it incredibly difficult for the team to find a groove in the second fourth where the Pacers were outscored by 24 points. Even shooting at their game FG% of 33.7 in those two quarters could've given Indiana a victory.
But even though the woes came in familiar stretches for recent Pacers squads, as the second unit struggled to find any kind of rhythm and leadership, there were still a lot of positives in the starting lineup. The good news is this game can be wiped from the books as a mulligan, and even though Indiana officially falls to 0-1 in this two game season, it's a growing step against a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago.
After the jump, a look at the play of the Pacers, both good and bad:
- Tyler Hansbrough led the way for Indiana with 19 points and 11 rebounds. In between abusing Carlos Boozer and getting to the line, his energy and hustle was everything Pacers fans should be excited about. His burst offensively could be a big asset in the offensively struggling second unit, assuming he and the second unit aren't continuously outplayed by the opposing team's second unit.
- George Hill's debut was a bit disappointing as well, but it's to be expected for a player in his first game with a new team. Hill went 1-7 in 17 minutes, but those minutes limited after getting popped in the face shortly after he came in. It seemed to mess with his game a bit, but Hill's play wasn't noticeably bad. It also wasn't noticeably good either.
- Lance Stephenson is the most intriguing player on the team it would seem. In his time leading the offense, it was like drawing names from a hat. The end result always seemed to be a mystery. Stephenson's ability to shift speed was impressive, and his intentions and willingness to make plays should be commended as well. Lance still has a lot of growing to do, but a solid defensive job on Derrick Rose may have been his highlight for the night.
- Paul George will have his first double double erased from his career next week after his 17 and 10 game, but it's a great sign he can get more. Less willing to defer to his teammates, George showed tremendous ability at getting into the lane and onto the line, though he needs to convert at a higher rate than he did tonight. His jumper wasn't quite the money shot it was last season, but again, it will take time to get back into game form for this team.
- Dahntay Jones got ten minutes and handled the ball for what felt like 15. Going 0-5 with two points is a great example of what Dahntay doesn't do well, yet continues to do. When the second unit struggled, Jones did what he did often last year; attempt to guide and lead the unit. Unfortunately, tonight was a good reason why he isn't a reliable option in that position.
- Roy Hibbert made some impressive post moves early in the game. They weren't pretty, but were very effective. He managed to get good looks all game, getting 14 points and 7 rebounds on 5-10 shooting.
- For the other starters, Danny Granger got plenty of looks, but struggled to hit anything from the field, going 5-17 on the night. His highlights were made when he drove the basket, but he was the only starter that didn't get to the line. Darren Collison looked impressive, especially in the first quarter. His control and defense seemed better, but his play definitely didn't stand out in the second half.
- Jeff Foster answered a lot of questions from people who wondered why the team would bother resigning the long-time veteran by grabbing ten rebounds (five of them offensive), banging down low, and causing problems everywhere. It was a Jeff Foster Special, and if you don't understand what he brings to a game that makes him so valuable, it's time to start watching games.
- Two of the team's D-Leaguers got reps tonight, Darnell Lazare didn't register much, but did make a couple of hustle plays, and Jarrid Famous was only in for a few seconds, unable to even register a trillion.
- As a team, Indiana did well forcing turnovers and not committing turnovers at a high rate, but didn't play a smart game, especially in the fourth quarter, and almost every time Lance Stephenson touched the ball. In a tightly called game, Indiana committed 25 fouls, but did get to the line 38 times. Unfortunately, converting at a 63% rate is a big issue that needs to be addressed. George was just 6-10 and Hibbert went 4-9.
While the end result is a bit disappointing, the blue and gold showed some positives. If David West can come in and make an impact with the starting unit, it can help the second unit with Hansbrough, which can help get the unit get all the familiarity they need to find a groove that can make use of Indiana's depth. They'll get another mulligan on Tuesday in Chicago, hoping to show marked improvement, even if the game comes up short again.