The Indiana Pacers are learning the hard way what it means to be the hunted rather than the hunter. Through two games, the Pacers have to be close to realizing they're seen as a team worth giving your best effort against; you don't end last season with the fifth best record in the league and expect teams to roll over. Some of it is a lack of Danny Granger, some of it just a poor excuse for execution. There's a lot of blame to go around, and even solid games from Tyler Hansbrough and Lance Stephenson weren't without their shortcomings. The Pacers lost, but at least they lost as a team that deserved to lose.
The line between an ugly win and a disappointing loss is razor thin, and in the past three days, the Pacers have experienced both sides of the coin, with nearly identical showings and levels of play ending in a 1-1 record heading home. The difference tonight was ball control. Where Indiana only committed one fourth quarter turnover against Toronto, they had seven(!) against the Bobcats. The difference tonight was a guy who just wanted to go get buckets. David West can't be the hero every night, and no one was there to pick up the mantle tonight when West wasn't hitting everything in sight.
David West did have 14 though. He came up in stretches tonight to carry the Pacers, but this team needs more from guys. With no one on the team capable of going out and getting you 20 any give night like Granger, it was up to the team to rise by committee. Which is why Roy Hibbert and George Hill each scoring in single figures and Paul George passes his way out of the fourth quarter for 12 is so frustrating for what this team has to be now.
Hibbert found himself hampered with foul trouble, and despite some put back plays late, wasn't in a position to make much of an impact, being concerned with those fouls. That led to a lot of Ian Mahinmi, who has played like a backup center, which is great for a change of pace, not necessarily as a guy you need for stretches. His hands didn't do the Pacers any favors, though he did make it out with only one turnover.
On the bright side, Tyler Hansbrough was the spark the Pacers needed in the first half, scoring 12 of his team high 15, working his way to the line, and being a nuisance for the Bobcats. It made things difficult for Frank Vogel when West was the team's most productive starter while Hansbrough was their most productive bench player. Do you play them together and risk getting beat up front, or force one out of the game? Vogel chose the latter.
Lance Stephenson was thrust into a higher minute count following a Sam Young shoulder injury in the first quarter that sidelined him for the night, and Born Ready made the most of his time, scoring 15 points, six rebounds, and four assists, but was caught for three of the team's turnovers in his short stretch of futility that was surrounded by solid play.
Gerald Green struggled to get his game going, and as the game wore on, his lack of ability to make an impact on the floor was showing in his play; his passes were poor, his shot selection was questionable at best, and the end result was Green sitting for the final minutes in favor of Stephenson. Green no doubt has a reason to be upset with his play, but it'll be important moving forward for him to remain in greater control of his on the court emotions to prevent his wish to make up for past mistakes or distract him for further mistakes.
One of the biggest keys for Indiana's success even with a healthy Granger was the evolution of third year wing Paul George. While tangible production was debatable, his consistency and level of play was not. While George seemed to almost stumble into his 12 (six of those coming early through a pair of three pointers), he wasn't much of an impact on either side of the floor. While he did grab seven rebounds and dish out six assists, his five turnovers and constant need to pass out of everything late in the fourth quarter was a major strike in George's overall night.
As a team, the Pacers did themselves no favors by going 16-27 from the free throw line, setting themselves up from the very outset for them to struggle when Charlotte jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter. Every Pacer except D.J. Augustin pitched in with the pitiful free throw effort, with Paul George and George Hill being the only two players to not miss an attempt, though they were just a combined 3-3. While it's hard to fault Hansbrough, who was the team's only consistent free throw shooter, for missing one of eight, every point mattered at the end, and Green and West's combined 0-6 was a huge black eye on Indiana's shot at a winning effort.
The Pacers don't have time to let this game linger in their minds; they have to turn around tomorrow night and take on the Sacramento Kings at home. Maybe a home atmosphere, not having to battle back-to-back teams in their home openers, an upsetting loss, or finally understanding that this team is the one being hunted will create a better showing than they've put up so far on the road.
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