The Pacers lost their third game by less than four points, falling 96-94 to the Timberwolves.
It was a minor miracle that the Indiana Pacers were even able to tie the game with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but George Hill simply refused to let the team go winless on their road trip. He did everything in his power in winning time to put Indiana back in the win column. And maybe it would've worked out in Hill's favor if Gerald Green doesn't lose track of Chase Budinger in the game's final play.
Seeing one of the two standout performances from this Pacers squad through six games go to waste is truly a shame. Hill finished the night with 29 points and seven assists, scoring six in 30 seconds to erase all of Indiana's struggles in free throw disparity, lack of defense, Paul George's stolen inbound, all to give them a fresh slate with just 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Indiana had found their momentum though Hill, and it took just 2.8 seconds to lose all of it, out of timeouts and a 0.8 second heave sealing an 0-3 road trip, a 2-4 record, a three game losing streak, and more frustration for a team that believes they are better, even without Danny Granger, than their play has shown so far.
The Pacers did play better tonight; there was a greater focus when the game was on the line tonight as opposed to Wednesday's loss in Atlanta, and slowly (with an emphasis on slow), it seems this team may be making the right steps to turn them back onto the road. Unfortunately, they do have to deal with soul searching through losing, which was something they didn't have to deal with last season. They were often on the right side of the box score despite whatever struggles they may have had to overcome that night, changing the mindset of their shortcomings. Suddenly, their struggles aren't struggles; they're teaching moments.
But this team doesn't have any room for teaching moments. They have to play without their leading scorer and are left with a razor thin margin in which they can operate and still be a successful basketball team, and they either haven't figured out how to do that, or maybe their personnel isn't to the level it needs to be to get away with some of the mistakes they've been committing. Of course, laying blame on the personnel isn't entirely fair this early in the season with a bench full of new faces, but we're still waiting for D.J. Augustin to play to the level of Darren Collison or even the level of A.J. Price, and Gerald Green does seem to be a roulette type of player that can get you a positive play one trip and a negative play the next.
It's far from all being the bench's fault, however. Even though Roy Hibbert and Paul George reached double figures tonight, they did so at the lowest levels possible, Hibbert scoring 10 and George 11, combining for just seven rebounds. It was really a game that came down to David West and George Hill with nice stretches from Lance Stephenson. West had a slow first half scoring, but put in 15 in the second half as part of his 19 points, 13 rebound effort.
Stephenson was a catalyst for the Pacers offense in the second quarter, turning a deficit into a halftime lead, scoring nine points on 4-5 shooting and dishing three assists. The Pacers held onto the ball much better tonight, committing only 13 turnovers. Unfortunately, it was the last one that nearly finished the game for Minnesota. The Pacers were also out shot from the free throw line thanks to a wildly lopsided third quarter where Minnesota shot 17 free throws to Indiana's four. The Pacers were able to make up some of the margin in the fourth, but it wasn't enough.
The Pacers get to go home on the second night of a back-to-back after another tough road loss. They can't afford to slip up to the Washington Wizards at home, creating as close to a must-win this early in the season as you can have. Indiana hasn't won in a week and with such a razor thin margin between winning and losing, the last thing they can afford is to slip into a lengthy losing streak.
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