So that happened.
The Pacers, looking to build on their gutsy comeback win in Los Angeles returned home to Super Bowl bound Indianapolis for their first of three games in the next two weeks against the Orlando Magic. The good news? Well, it seemed like it would be one of those nights where good news would floeth over, like a spring of hope as the Pacers stormed out of the locker room shooting 63%, sitting Dwight Howard down in the first quarter, and pulling out to a 10-point first quarter lead.
So when Lou Amundson drew Howard's third foul at the beginning of the second quarter, it looked like the Pacers were in prime position to blow the game wide open and stay undefeated at home. But as Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert rested, the Magic kept the game within striking distance before rattling off a 10-0 run to give them a 41-39 lead as the teams went into the half knotted at 45, leaving the blue and gold feeling like they wasted a huge opportunity.
Problems began to pile up in the third quarter when the poor shooting Pacers returned full force, inviting a seven minute stretch where Indiana was unable to hit a field goal, as Hedo Turkoglu hit a pair of threes to help push Orlando's lead into double figures. What little hope the Pacers had of getting back in the game was being stifled by smothering and active Magic defense where help was always spot on to couple with Indiana's inability to find the basket, but within single digits, the game seemed within striking distance until Quentin Richardson drilled a buzzer beater three to end the third. At that point, it almost seemed the fourth quarter was going to be a formality rather than a furious comeback.
Offensive execution wasn't crisp enough for the defense Orlando was playing (read: it was lazy), and despite a pair of stops, the poor offense didn't help, neither did J.J. Reddick taking over (is that one of the sure tell signs your team is automatically going to lose?). Even after Indiana was able to cut it to 9, four turnovers and two missed shots later, the lead had ballooned up to 18 points, effectively putting a capper on the evening.
Indiana just came up short in a lot of areas. Ball movement simply wasn't there most of the night (not that Orlando allowed it in the second half), they were slow to pick up guys defensively, leading to 13 Orlando three pointers, and 19 turnovers really helped fuel play for Orlando. In the end, it ended up kind of being the polar opposite of Indiana's game Sunday, and well, that's going to end up with a loss against teams better than the ones Indiana have been facing consistently to this point.
After the jump, Roy Hibbert's fashion statement:
- Roy Hibbert came out of the first and third quarter on fire against Howard, putting him in foul trouble early, while getting some great hook shots to go in, but despite a 10 point first quarter, he came back down to earth with just 6 the rest of the night, finishing up 5-16. Maybe it was his new face mask, but he did finish with another double double with 12 boards, five of those on the offensive glass. Roy had stretches where he put his stamp on the game, and was certainly the most consistent player for the team tonight, which is part of the reason they lost.
- Danny Granger too came out firing early hitting three of his first five shots, including a pair of threes before he too trailed off a bit. As for why they each trailed off? Despite strong first quarters, both sat a lengthy amount of time on the bench. Roy, despite no Dwight Howard for the entire second quarter, rested through the first six minutes (after sitting the final three of the first quarter). Granger? He sat the first eight and a half minutes. In defense of the move, the Pacers were up 8 points at the time Hibbert returned (only one when Danny returned), but neither player had quite the same punch the rest of the game offensively.
- It was definitely not a pretty game for the team. Tyler Hansbrough continued to struggle shooting, Paul George was too loose with the ball leading to 4 turnovers, neither Darren Collison nor Lance Stephenson had a single assist, though Lance had a fairly nice game all things considered. Lou Amundson may have been one of the best players on the floor tonight for Indiana, with a highlight block, forcing Howard into his third foul (a rather dumb foul on Howard's part, one he immediately knew as he lay on the floor), and hustling around like Lou do, but his three turnovers were certainly on him.
All in all, a promising first quarter gave way to a fairly dark game. Ryan Anderson struggled big last night, went 8-14 with five threes tonight. It's partially to say it was just Orlando's night, but Indiana helped Orlando with a below standard defensive effort that will hurt Indiana's #1 FG% defense. But water seems to find its level, and a parallel opposite to Sunday's game pushes Indiana back in the L column. Things don't get easier as the Pacers have to immediately travel to Chicago for a game tomorrow night against the Bulls.
The Bulls are dealing with a myriad of injuries, but have still handled business to this point and even short handed won't sit by and allow the Pacers to come into their building and steal a win. The Pacers have proven capable of rebounding to losses this season, having yet to fall in back-to-back games, but they'll certainly have to play better against a better defensive team than they did tonight to make that happen.