Despite finally showing life against Miami last night, any positives taken from the game were ultimately not worth noting because it didn't put the Pacers back in the win column. And the Pacers needed to get back in the win column when they had the chance, because they sure didn't have a chance tonight.
The Pacers were forced from the outset to keep pace with the Magic, and when you're forced to match shots with Orlando, it can be a long night given their ease for three pointers. Paul George and Danny Granger led the way early, but their contributions on the offensive end were largely overshadowed by poor team defense, allowing 36 points on 60% shooting in the first quarter as Indiana trailed by 14 after one.
Bad went from worse at Orlando opened with a hat trick of three pointers to blow the game wide open, but the blue and gold finally found some life on the defensive end, as George and Darren Collison forced turnovers as Indiana fueled a 14-0 run that would cut the game to nine. However, as was a lot of the issues in the loss to Atlanta, the Pacers' inability to keep guys off of the three point line really proved to be a dagger in any comeback plans.
As Indiana rolled their way to cut the game to nine, it didn't even take Orlando a minute to push the game back up to 18. Indiana wasn't able to get in control of the game again as they fell back behind by as many as 29 in the fourth, though some bright play from a frustrated Tyler Hansbrough following a hard foul Howard put on George proved to be one of the few highlights of the second half as Indiana dropped their fourth straight after winning six straight after losing five straight.
The loss marks Indiana's ninth straight against a team with a winning record, a curiously bad stretch considering the Pacers won 7 of their first 11. Whatever has caught up to the Pacers, whether it's limited action from George Hill and Jeff Foster, or having the attention of teams around the league, Indiana just hasn't been able to pull of wins against teams that they're alongside in the standings.
After the jump, a little bit more before looking forward:
Paul George was really the team's lone beacon of light for roughly 43 minutes of game action despite getting some stretch production from Darren Collison (who helped fuel the defensive intensity in the second quarter), Danny Granger (who provided some steady points in the first half), and Tyler Hansbrough (who closed the game out with authority, putting up what another coach may call "irrelevant"), but it was all about Paul George when it comes down to it.
George led the way with 22 points, 8 boards, and 3 steals, and throughout most of the night, seemed to be the only player who was all with it. George went 10-17 from the field, only settling for a pair of three pointers, a positive sign for the young man's growth that he was able to take it to the basket with authority, having more than a handful of dunks to finish out possessions.
Whether it was the exhaustion from the long night last night, David West didn't even seem to bring it, finishing with 2 points and 3 boards, something that should have been expected when he backed down from an offensive rebound chance early in the game. Likewise, despite shooting a respectable 5-8 and picking up a couple of blocks here and there, Roy Hibbert offered very little to the game, getting rocked by Howard consistently, ending the night with 2 rebounds to his name.
In the end, there was very little of note to take from tonight's loss, unless of course they use this as motivation, but one would think they would've used last night's loss as motivation to win tonight, so that's hardly worth mentioning on that note. Whatever they need to get back in the win column they had better find as they enter the back stretch of their nine game stretch against quality teams beginning with Portland.
But if this is the stretch that defines Indiana's season, they're not doing a very good job since they're 0-4. It is worth noting however that these are the teams especially the Pacers have lost to in style the past few years. Against the past four opponents (Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, and Orlando), dating back to 2008-09, the Pacers are 15-42 against with only one series win (2-1 against the Heat in 2008-09). So step back from the ledge if you're feeling awfully emotional about these four losses, because even for the new look Pacers, losses against these teams are anything but new.