Every time it seems the Pacers get some positives going in their direction; some nice wins, some solid effort, it dissipates almost instantly with nights like this. At some point, it becomes a tease to even feel positive about the team that in most years wouldn’t be where they are with the record they have. But yet, here we are and a faint glimmer of hope, rewarded by wins against teams like Chicago, leaves the door open for that glimmer to remain ignited, even if it seems to flame out far too often.
While the ups and downs of the Indiana Pacers have been well documented, one consistent in recent games has been the team’s inability to get off to a quality start. Slow start after slow start has put the Pacers in an early hole in each of their last three games, but they have benefited from their recent competition…or rather lack thereof to make a push and eventually pull out a win. But it’s a dangerous game to play night after night, no matter the competition and that’s the lesson learned tonight.
Unlike recent games where apathy seemed to be the fuel, tonight it seemed largely due to the shots just refusing to fall. Indiana enjoyed a scorching 3-18 start from the field, bailed out by a poor Sacramento start as well in addition to a large number of flawless free throw trips keeping the blue and gold within striking distance despite the poor play and big rebounding quarters from DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert.
Dahntay Jones led the way early in the second for Indiana to help alleviate the horrid shooting with 9 first half points, but wasn’t able to get help from anywhere else, as the shooting and offensive movement continued to be horrible. Sacramento managed to push the game into double figures following more offensive rebounding from Cousins, who had a double double in the first half, using it to push open a 9-2 run to give the Kings a sizable 17-point lead. Every positive the Pacers tried to make offensively were instantly turned into something horrific on the defensive end. At the half, the score was an ugly 55-37, and it wasn’t even that close.
In addition to Indiana’s poor shooting, it was Sacramento’s rebounding, points in the paint, and blocks that helped fuel the Kings to their large first half lead, and Indiana seemed to give very little effort to change that. Through the first half, the Pacers shot 12-48, or 25% and only D.Jones shot 50% or better from the field, but was able to stay within 20 by going 12-12 from the FT line. Silver lining to an awful night?
With hope of a run out of the second half dashed by more bad play, hope began to fade from the game. However, at the bleakest stretch, the Pacers managed to start finding some offensive rhythm, but failed to cut into the lead by continuing to play poor defense. Danny Granger and Darren Collison started 1-15 combined, but they suddenly got hot, scoring the team’s next 21 points as they sliced into Sacramento’s 22-point lead, cutting it to 10 on an 11-0 run.
The Kings were able to regroup, however, and Donte Greene, hitting three pointers despite being a poor shooter statistically, helped push the Sacramento lead back up to 17 thanks to a pair of Dalembert free throws at the end of the third quarter. Things never improved from there, and Indiana’s interior defense continued to allow Sacramento everything they wanted.
Paul George helped lead a quiet late game push, but turnovers helped make that moot as the Kings were never really threatened in the fourth quarter, allowing them to coast to a big road victory, Milwaukee now saying, "See? We weren’t the only ones!"
Some playoff race.
There’s very little about this one that is worth recounting. The Pacers shot a lot and missed a lot. They went 35.2% from the field and 4-25 deep. Danny Granger’s third quarter push was the only highlight of the night. Free throws were the only real advantage for the Pacers, who went 25-30 compared to Sacramento’s 10 attempts, but even that couldn’t get the Pacers much within 20 in the fourth quarter.
There was a serious lack of effort tonight for the Pacers, who still masquerade as a potential playoff team. Slow starts have not hurt the Pacers in recent games, but did so in a big way tonight as they were unable to ever really threaten the Kings’ lead once it was built up. It’s a little upsetting to think of this as a necessary wake-up call. Seventy-three games into the season, the Pacers should not be needing wake up calls to keep their season alive. They’re still in the drivers’ seat for the final playoff spot, but they’re continuing to squander opportunities to not only put teams behind them but catch teams in front of them and it does them absolutely no favors. Is it something about not being on local TV that brings out the worst in them? Forgettable performances against Sacramento and Memphis still count, even if fewer people saw them.
Indiana will travel to Detroit for their final back-to-back of the regular season, where they are an unfortunate 2-12 on the road. On the bright side, a noticable lack of effort tonight shouldn’t make for tired legs for tomorrow.