For the time being anyway, the Indiana Pacers return to the top of the NBA's Power Rankings following another undefeated week that finished up with a solid win in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Unfortunately, their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers will likely set them back barring winning out their road trip, but the praise for the Pacers, their play, and their overall demeanor is almost exactly what makes the loss to Portland so frustrating.
Most of the power rankings this week tout Indiana's stellar defensive effort, something that wasn't on display in the fourth quarter against the Blazers. It took what's going to wind up one of Paul George's best performances to just keep pace with Portland in the closing minutes due to their ability to not only hit shots, but force fouls and hit free throws. The Blazers flat out beat the Pacers when the Pacers are supposed to be at their best: the second half and end of games.
Indiana's defense did themselves very few favors against Portland's already efficient offensive attack when it came to giving up fouls. Lance Stephenson was visibly frustrated most of the night, and his second half defense against Wesley Matthews set Portland up for end of game success. The backcourt play as a whole left a lot to be desired, but it was still a team effort coming up short.
The real story of last night's game for the Pacers did come from Paul George's play late. In the final three minutes of the game, he scored 15 points on five three pointers. But every shot, a three pointer, simply trimmed a point off the lead every time. Seven to four, six to three, five to two, seven to four, six to three. In eight Portland possessions in the final three minutes, they converted points on six of them. That included four separate trips to the free throw line and 2-3 shooting with one turnover (that nearly resulted in Paul George's 6 points, 5 seconds, and would've trimmed the lead to one with 15 seconds left).
It's incredibly surprising to see Indiana's defense simply fail to come up with stops like this, more than George having an all-time shooting stretch. Whether travel and back-to-backs came into play is more an excuse than a tangible reason, but the team's play down the stretch and whether they'll be able to get stops will be front and center with the difficulty they'll see moving forward this week, as games on this trip remain at Utah, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City.
NBA power rankings 2013: Pacers reclaim No. 1 spot - SBNation.com
The Pacers move back to the top, but a more difficult schedule puts their 4-0 week in the rear view.
The Western Conference is just too darn deep | NBA.com
John Schuuhman takes a look at Indiana's stellar defensive numbers, not much of which were really on display late against the Blazers.
Power Rankings: Indy leads the way - ESPN
Marc Stein seems to be surprised only five of the previous 12 16-1 teams went on to win the NBA Championship. I'll take those odds for a team looking for their first in the NBA.
Indiana Pacers return to No. 1 in NBA Power Rankings - NBA - SI.com
Matt Dollinger gives some opinions on Indiana's defense, liking the team's drive and motivation as they head out West.
NBA Power Rankings: Knicks hit bottom - Yahoo Sports
The Pacers won't start 23-1, but Marc J. Spears did see Sunday's win as a statement win.
PBT NBA Power Rankings: Pacers, Heat and a lot from out West at the top | ProBasketballTalk
Kurt Helin offers up the best indicator for championship success: "how many points you outscore your opponents per 100 possession." The Pacers are off to the best start in that category.
Power Rankings: Month in, getting clues to counting mysteries - CBSSports.com
The Pacers get continued praise for their defensive play in November.