Even though Channing Frye knocked down a contested jumper to win the game, today’s loss was in essence sealed long before that. It took a scorching A.J. Price in the fourth quarter to push this game to overtime to begin with, and as has been the case in three of the last four losses: Indiana has fought back, but been unable to rope in the win, and they also drop to 0-3 in OT games.
Given the poor shooting effort against Utah, the Pacers opening the game with seven consecutive shots hit was a very solid sign, even though the overlying problem of the day was in turnovers, which began early, and continued often. Danny Granger and Brandon Rush had strong first quarters, but both were outdone by Grant Hill, who scored 14 of his season high 34 points in the first. The Pacers were beaten down by the pick and roll, and despite shooting well, couldn’t keep pace with the Suns. Lance Stephenson made his NBA debut in the first, however, getting short time, but making a couple of nice plays, helping to trim an eight point Suns lead down to two.
Turnovers and poor defense continued to plague the blue and gold, as they failed to get anything with their shooting, quickly falling back behind, this time by ten, and after cutting it to three, went into the locker room down nine, having allowed 60 first half points to the Suns. Out of the half, Phoenix fueled an 11-2 run to push the lead to 13; one Indiana could only manage to close to ten heading into the final period.
Most of the problems with the deficit continued to come in ball control. While Indiana continued to commit numerous turnovers, the Suns had zero of their own in the second and third quarters. A.J. Price, however, broke out of his shooting slump in a huge way, hitting a three in the third quarter before rattling off 13 more points (on three more triples) in the fourth quarter. The play of Price, in addition to the vastly improved Pacers defense (which only allowed 39 across the second twenty-four minutes), helped force turnovers and get timely stops that put Indiana back in the game.
Jeff Foster put Indiana up and Granger extended the lead to three in a four minute stretch where the Pacers held Phoenix scoreless. But despite being one stop away from sealing the win, it was Grant Hill who stepped up in a big way and drilled an open three pointer to tie the game up at 99. The Pacers suffered four (count ‘em, four) shot clock violations in the second half, but the one they forced on Phoenix to get them the ball back was the biggest for them. Indiana failed to convert on the game winner, and went into overtime, looking for their first win.
In the free basketball period, Phoenix game out blazing, scoring the first seven points and putting the game in serious doubt, but Price and Granger (with a little three point play help from Josh McRoberts) closed the lead setting Phoenix up with the final possession with under 24 to go. Despite solid defense, Phoenix eventually found Frye, who hit a jumper as time expired to give Phoenix a win the Pacers never really deserved.
The loss drops Indiana to 26-32, and makes it their fourth loss in their last six. And it’s a common theme across each of the losses; the inability to play big for an entire game. There has been some level of breakdown in every game, be it offensive rebounds, quick starts, or in today’s case, turnovers and early defensive struggles. The Pacers have shown tremendous fight to get back into each of these games to give themselves at least a fighting chance at grabbing a W, but in each of them, they’ve fallen short and been unable to make the plays down the stretch. The team did make eleven three pointers, a nice break from the rough night from deep they suffered against Utah.
Frank Vogel’s down-the-stretch lineup included A.J. Price over Darren Collison (understandable for Price’s hot hand), but also took Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert out of the game in favor of Jeff Foster and Josh McRoberts. The idea makes sense from a defensive end, but it’s hard to say if the lack of offense provided could’ve been made up had the team given up a few extra points. However, it was those two who helped snuff the Suns out cold late in the fourth, so it’s hard to point too many fingers, even if it was Foster taking one of the potential game winners from 17 feet out.
After the jump, is it still the same old story if it’s a new story that’s becoming the same old story?
- Lance Stephenson made his NBA debut today, and in his modest four minutes hit a pair of free throws and dished a couple of assists. It’s certainly hard not to overanalyze Stephenson’s short stint (it’s been a long time coming after all), but he managed to successfully get his feet wet without being overwhelmed, and even helped close a Pacers deficit. The Stephenson family celebrated his first points by throwing confetti in the air, a nice token that can hopefully end at some point in confetti being dropped, but maybe that’s overanalyzing.
- Danny Granger made up for his poor game in Phoenix by getting at the Suns early and often. One of the biggest problems much of today was the lack of help he was getting. As Granger sat on 19 points late in the third, no other Pacer had hit double digits. He did finish with a strong 25 points on 17 shots, working and getting to the free throw line late in regulation and in overtime to size up Indiana’s chance at winning. It was Granger, however, who left Grant Hill all alone for his game-tying three pointer, scapegoating a lax defensive effort by the team all day.
- A.J. Price had a season high 18 points, and absolutely exploded in the fourth. Price’s recent struggles are well documented, but no one is going to accuse Price of shying way from his struggles. Where most players may inch off the shot while in a slump, Price is one of the only players on this team who knows you can’t break out of that slump without shooting. The result almost singlehandedly put Indiana into a winning position, turning a painfully bleak situation into one that almost seemed like could be a win.
- Brandon Rush did what only Brandon Rush can do, managing to have an explosive game while still doing every passive and headshaking move he’s become famous for. Rush scored five quick points, made some solid defensive players and drove to the basket for fouls, even finding time to show complete lack of court awareness by causing a few of those Pacers shot clock violations. Elsewhere in the wing rotation, Paul George had a solid game (including some nice buzzer beating action as always), but continued to settle far too often on the three point shot, finishing 1-4. Dahntay Jones also tried to make something happen, but struggled with consistency, ending up with 7 points on 10 shots.
- Tyler Hansbrough had a much more effective game today; hitting five field goal attempts to make up for whatever happened Friday, and had 13 points in the team’s effort. Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster struggled offensively, but McRoberts’s three point play in OT was huge, even if the end result ended up where it did.
- Couple of starters got lost in the rotation shuffle today, but both had serviceable, if unremarkable, outings. Darren Collison shot 3-5 in just 24 minutes, but finished with 7 points and 5 assists, limiting his turnovers to just two. Roy Hibbert had 8 points on 4-8 shooting in 30 minutes, adding 6 boards and 4 blocks to his statline.
Today’s game was a frustrating one because the Pacers really fell short in a big way. Despite the surge to have a chance at winning late, the team was still unable to get the stop they needed to escape with a much needed win. The Pacers close out February 8-5, a positive if only for what the negatives were heading into the month, but currently on a 2-4 stretch is not going to bode well, not with four games in five nights, not with three road games, not with those road games being in Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Houston.
Things just got a lot more real.
The Pacers are at home against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, the mark of a true “must-win” game as the season shifts into March. The playoffs may still be a possibility, but to see this team back into the playoffs? Not exactly the kind of push one would want given all of the positives that have come about in recent weeks. We can hope the recent success wasn’t just a result of the schedule, but until further notice, it appears that may unfortunately be the case. It was around this point last season that Channing Frye and Earl Watson turned the season around, one can only hope this particular Frye outbreak can do the same. This week will tell a lot.