It is true the Indiana Pacers are a better defensive team this year than in years past. It's also true they probably aren't as good on that side of the ball as the first 17 or so games have seemed to suggest. It's not a bad thing, though. Certainly, being above average defensively, or at least better than the Pacers have been in past years, is a huge step forward, but for a team that's had to use defense as a stabilizer to their really poor offensive play, they really do need to be as good as their #1 in the league FG defense suggests they are. And you know, tonight, they just weren't.
The problems began, as they seem to often do, when the second unit took control of the game, turning a 19-17 game the Pacers trailed, a game where Danny Granger and Darren Collison seemed to have all the momentum for the blue and gold, into an 11-2 Celtics run that put Boston in control of the game. Even still, as the Celtics seemed to control the game while the second unit kept shooting blanks, Dahntay Jones and Paul George were able to cut the lead to six.
Even at six, it felt like a 25 point game, but Indiana had a golden opportunity to make it a game. But there was Brandon Bass. There was poor Pacers offense. And there was Paul Pierce. Suddenly, the game was back at ten, an all too familiar sight the Pacers hit the replay button on the rest of the night.
As has been the trend in just about every game this season, the Pacers stormed out of the half, erasing the eight point halftime lead in an instant. At 46 all, Indiana had just made it a game! Then Paul Pierce decided to show up. Paul George had nothing. Danny Granger had nothing. But Pierce had something; 17 of his game high 28 points in the third quarter, to keep the game right at the double digit marker, aided by more poor defense that allowed former Purdue Boilermaker E'Twaun Moore an easy look at the basket to wind down the third.
The Pacers continued to flirt with the game; using an 10-0 run to cut a 16-point lead to just six, but once again, when they needed a critical defensive stop, there was a breakdown to immediately erase all the good will and good momentum the Pacers spent possession after possession building up. The end result, even as the Pacers seemed to eternally have the game within one good run, was one they earned; a loss.
While this game was ultimately lost on the defensive side of the ball and the team's inability to make critical stops while letting players blow by and get easy or open looks, there were a number of contributing factors that helped solidify the loss. Poor shooting remains a constant. Despite a 7-13 start, the Pacers finished just 35% from the field, a pretty average number for this team, but not one you can expect to win consistently with. They went just 1-19 from three point range, notably missing their last 18. Add in struggles getting second chance points, holding onto the ball, getting points off of turnovers (until it was too late), and getting no ball movement, and it's really impressive this game ended up within ten.
After the jump, a hold your breath moment:
- Roy Hibbert struggled, as did the whole team, finishing with 11 and 7, but also 6 TOs. However, it's a sigh of relief the big fella was even able to finish the game, when he came down and turned his ankle late in the second quarter. After going out for a few minutes (leading to further concerns for depth as Lou Amundson was out for a spell after being poked in the eye), Hibbert returned with a light ankle sprain he was able to play with.
- Danny Granger and Paul George both played fairly well offensively, but they both played fairly poorly defensively. It's hard to really give either a lot of credit, even as they both shot as well as anyone on the Pacers did. George struggled early, but came on strong late in the game, even though most was too little too late.
- Even though the Celtics bench didn't exactly cause levels of concern outside of Chris Wilcox's fourteen, it was the Pacers bench that just played so poorly it didn't matter. Boston's bench didn't offer a lot of scoring, but did offer an 11-19 shooting efficiency to come up when they needed it. For the Pacers, just 4-21 shooting, including 2-13 for 10 points between Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill.
Even though the Celtics were short Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, ask the Orlando Magic how that worked out in their two losses. The Celtics, despite not even being competitive against the Pacers in the first two games, have four straight wins, a light schedule for the foreseeable future, and a golden opportunity to jump back into the rat race that is the top six seeds in the East.
The Pacers, on the other hand, fall to 12-6, and will face the same Orlando Magic team that not only blew a 27-point lead to Boston, but was waxed in New Orleans. It seems Orlando takes getting rolled to personal levels just before Pacers games, offering up another tough challenge for the blue and gold. This time, however, the Pacers are coming off a tough defeat of their own, and need to come out in Florida with a chip on their shoulder if they hope to snag another key road victory as they continue to weather a tough portion of the schedule coupled with endless road games.