It was a rough day at the office for the Indiana Pacers, who followed up their big win against the Miami Heat with a dud against the New Jersey Nets. The Pacers entered the game on a ten game winning streak against New Jersey, and played like a dejected team that had slid ten straight. How the Pacers went from 60 to 0 overnight is pretty strange, but it's also life in the NBA, where even the teams at the bottom of the standings can put together a herculean performance to take advantage of one of the league's better teams.
It's nothing to take away from what the Nets did tonight, because they played like a team that wanted it while the Pacers played like a team that simply didn't look engaged or interested. They deserved the win and unlike the games where the better team wins despite not playing great, the Pacers weren't able to overcome the hurdle tonight in the same way they did last week in their win against Washington. Of course, it'd be easy to explain away this game as a big off night for the blue and gold and quietly sweep it under the rug, but there isn't a rug big enough to sweep what the Pacers brought in the fourth quarter out of sight.
Simply put, what the Pacers did in the fourth quarter to eke out a win in Washington was completely non-existent in tonight's contest. Indiana was unable to put the ghosts of the first three quarters behind them and it all exploded in their faces during the fourth quarter. Much like the Washington game, however, the Pacers were combating a highly competitive lottery team they didn't seem to have the interest in respecting. For all of the struggles they've had this year adjusting to being a team the rest of the league respects, especially against winning teams, Indiana has done a solid job making sure they walk out of losing teams' buildings with a W as this marks the fourth loss on the year.
But when you fail to take advantage of 50/50 balls or take any advantage on the glass while being careless on offense in all areas, it opens the door for teams to sneak in and wreak havoc. New Jersey took full advantage of Indiana's inabilities to play focused, scoring 24 points off of 18 Indiana turnovers. The Pacers didn't help their cause when Danny Granger saddled himself with two fouls in the first quarter, which really shook his rhythm for the entire night.
When Indiana wasn't shooting themselves in the foot, they were doing well on offense, being led by Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough. However, when Paul George can score 22 points and you can't say he had a great game, it really helps put the entire night into perspective, at least to an extent. Indiana's inability to work the ball to Roy Hibbert against the smaller New Jersey front line was a big blow to their offensive rhythm, all the while the Nets were keeping the Pacers at bay.
Despite all of the chips stacked against Indiana, they held a slim lead in third quarter, successfully erasing a six-point deficit, but the Nets responded with a 5-0 punch, Indiana managing to trail by only 2 at the end of the third. In the fourth, however, the Pacers were throttled by the Nets in the fourth, who looked like a seasoned playoff team who knew what it took to close out a game they had led the entire way. They poured in the first eight, and from there, it was all over.
Indiana staggered after New Jersey's initial blow, but the terrible defensive showcase in the fourth ultimately doomed any chance of a blue and gold comeback as New Jersey continued to relentlessly bash the Pacers, jumping out to as many as 21 late in the fourth, winning the final quarter 31-17. For Indiana, there was a lot to be disappointed in: The bad ball control, the lackluster defense, the poor adjustment by Granger to avoid picking up his third and fourth fouls in the third quarter, the team's inability to find Hibbert inside, the 3-16 shooting from the bench wings. Let's stop there for now. Fortunately, the Pacers will have a quick chance at redemption when they welcome the Washington Wizards into Bankers Life Fieldhouse tomorrow. Let's all hope for a better showcase then.