The Pacers, coming off one of the worst performances they’ve had all season, were rewarded with their passive and disappointing effort by matching up with the league’s hottest team, the Dallas Mavericks, winners of 17 of their last 18 games. It was difficult to really know how the team would respond, but it was easy to relegate tonight’s game to a "well, as long as they can show up, I’ll be happy" kind of night.
At the end of this one, that’s the kind of game it was. That’s not to suggest moral victories are perfectly okay; at this point in the season, it’s all about wins and losses, but after Wednesday’s game, being picky with outcomes against championship opposition isn’t really worth the effort it takes. The Pacers came out strong in the first quarter, led by quality interior play from Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert, as the starters carried their weight as the Goon Squad began checking in.
Lance Stephenson came in late in the first, and immediately began turning the tides of the game. Stephenson successfully ran the offense, dropping some gorgeous dimes and racking up a pretty startling five assists in five short minutes. The Pacers took an early second quarter lead on five points from Paul George, pushing it to three before Dallas regrouped under a timeout, regaining the lead and eventually pushing it into a double digit lead with a 12-1 run. Rodrigue Beaubois finished off 11 of his first half points as the Mavs went into the half up 11.
Dallas shot exceptionally well, scoring 68 points, but the Pacers played strong offensively themselves, just simply didn’t have the firepower to keep pace with a scorching Mavericks team. Dirk Nowitzki was unstoppable tonight, and hit the first basket out of the half. Indiana responded with a 7-0 run to cut it to a six point game, but Nowitzki and the Mavericks worked it back to double digits. At another rough patch, Stephenson entered and led a positive charge for the team, using his playmaking abilities a 10-4 run to cut it back to single digits. The game sat at nine points after three following a bad turnover by Indiana lead to a quick final basket for Dallas.
Dahntay Jones led the way in the beginning of the fourth, cutting the game to five, beginning a highly competitive stretch where Indiana would inch closer with each successive run. First five, then Paul George’s three point play cut it to four with 8:27 left in the game. This is where Indiana lost the game. All night, the Mavericks got what they wanted, but the Pacers were fortunate enough to catch them not only without Nowitzki, but without any offense to speak of.
Down six, the Pacers missed shots, committed poor turnovers, and responded in a stretch where Dallas could only muster up five points in a four minute stretch by scoring just three points of their own. Indiana finally pushed offensively by a Darren Collison three pointer, which cut the game to three. From there, Jason Terry hit two high difficultly shots that Indiana responded with turnovers, and Dirk fittingly sunk the dagger with a well contested jumper, eventually falling 116-108.
The Pacers really played well tonight. This is the kind of effort that beats most teams tonight, but unfortunately, it happened to be a really good team. The Pacers played pretty average defensively. Collison struggled against Beaubois, but the Pacers really did a standup job on Nowitzki, he was just that good. Ultimately, despite costly turnovers and allowing 14 rebounds, there were two very clear instances the Pacers let this game slip away.
One was the midway stretch in the fourth quarter where Indiana could not get production to capitalize on Dallas’s cold stretch, but the quieter one is how poorly the Pacers closed the quarters. At the end of each of the three quarters, Dallas managed to cash in on the quarter’s final shots. That’s six easy points the Pacers handed Dallas, which ended up being key down the stretch. These little plays can build up and go to show how important closing quarters out strong are. Dallas worked for the final shots and got them. Indiana didn’t and therefore, were left off the scoreboard. Fix that one aspect, and this game could’ve been something else going down the stretch.
After the jump…okay, I was wrong about Lance Stephenson:
- Game ball is tough tonight. Two players in particular deserve the award, but without Lance Stephenson, the other’s contributions may not have been big, so let’s all celebrate Lance Stephenson playing basketball! The second round pick, in his fourth game, entered the game as the primary ballhandler at two points, and each time, helped the team in a positive manner. Not only was Stephenson running the offensive effectively, he was running it like…wait for it…a true point guard. While I had been skeptical that his point guard "skills" were limited to handling the ball and passing it occasionally, the level of passing Stephenson displayed was fantastic. He was making pinpoint touchdown throws inside, beautiful assists. Stephenson proved that he can work without the ball, as he finished with just two points on 1-3 shooting, but his six assists speak volumes…they’re not fake. Boy, there’s reason to be excited.
- Josh McRoberts deserves extensive mention because after struggling big time in Oklahoma City, he came out firing and hitting shots early and often. He not only finished 5-5 from the field, but actually got enough respect to get to the line for a perfect 5-5 night. He finished with 15 points, but what will go unnoticed as you look at Dirk Nowitzki’s 10-12 for 29 point night is just how well McRoberts was playing him. While Dirk was absolutely out of this world to the point where if Josh’s defense wasn’t good enough, absolutely nothing will be, his play did help in actually limiting the damage (as well as drawing his third foul in the first half to sit him out for the final 2:30).
- Darren Collison showed solid signs of working through his current slump, but effects were clearly still lingering. While only tagged with a pair of turnovers, there were a number of instances where he was bailed out by his teammates or a favorable call from racking more. He was abused by Rodrigue Beaubois in the first half, and did his best to counter offensively, and did well for the most part, finishing with 17 points and 6 assists. There were a lot of good things compared to recent games, but it seems he’s getting through it, slowly. Hopefully he can start putting it all together down the stretch and provide nothing but positives in the final month and change.
- Danny Granger scored 22 points to lead the way for the blue and gold, but struggled to take advantage of matchups in his favor. He did reach the line 7 times for a 1.000 average, but couldn’t get into a good enough rhythm to take a handle on the game. Brandon Rush finished with 10 points on three three pointers, but offered very little else than a spot up shot. Paul George made some great plays and some poor plays. Overall, he put forth a quiet net positive, scoring eight points on 3-5 shooting.
- Roy Hibbert was effective early, helping the Pacers step into their rhythm for the game, but once the Mavericks adjusted, the big fella couldn’t stay effective, though much of his attempts to make plays in the fourth were met by poor setups by Collison.
- Tyler Hansbrough benefited from Stephenson’s stellar passing as much as anyone. His problems outside of doing great Tyler Hansbrough things continue to be his lack of recognition on resetting the offense. He made some great loose ball plays that resulted in him with the ball, and he simply opted to take the low percentage shot over getting the basketball to a ballhandler for the shot clock. He did do well defensively, not only on Dirk (as well as he could), but made some savvy reach plays to knock the ball loose. Jeff Foster would be proud.
The Pacers played a good brand of basketball tonight, and it’s difficult to be too upset at the loss, because the Mavericks are that good. Ultimately, what doomed the Pacers, as with most of the season, was failure to execute down the stretch. This isn’t the kind of thing the Pacers can just fix. They’ve got a great cast of players who can get you back into a game, but lack someone who can push them over the top consistently.
Dahntay Jones and A.J. Price have shown the best capabilities of coming up large with the game on the line, but neither is good enough to do it consistently. Without it, especially against a team with extensive veteran leadership and extensive roster of players who are good enough to close games out, it’s not a formula that works in Indiana’s favor.
The good news is they played far better tonight, the bad news is they’ve got to turn around play in Houston against the Rockets the very next night. This kind of performance can top most teams in this league; that includes Houston, so the Pacers need to bring the same intensity tomorrow and get a win to close out this tough Red River road trip.