Two feel-bad losses later, and the Indiana Pacers' 15 game home winning streak seems like a distant memory. Coming out of that winning streak are two of four straight losses by less than five points, all marred by pitiful late game execution. Credit the Pacers for making it games against Utah and Denver, but suddenly, the Pacers are prone to the big shot, prone to late game collapses, and prone by failure of execution at the end of games.
This is nothing new for the Pacers, who have struggled in each of their last two playoff exits at getting points late in games, and tonight's failure to get that last bucket allowed four Nets points in the final minute to send the game to OT, where, much like in the loss to Toronto, it felt like the extra five minutes was merely a prelude to a loss. Defensively, the Pacers made some nice stops late, but didn't get the key ones, and couldn't score to save their lives.
Part of it came down to issues with Paul George and David West. West left the game a minute in when he was scratched in the eye by Brook Lopez. He sat out the rest of the first half, but returned in the second scoring seven points in the second half, but his 2-11 shooting, including numerous misses from characteristic looks, clearly appeared to be hampered by his lack of full vision. For George, it's hard to say what the issue was. After hitting his first bucket, he was blanked from the floor, missing his next nine attempts, whiffing on defense, and eventually fouling out.
Despite George's struggles, they missed him in the game late, as George Hill was left to cover Joe Johnson, who easily hit the game tying shot over Hill. Hill was one of the bright spots for Indiana tonight, scoring 22, hitting a number of shots, but having to be the offensive load, wasn't able to keep hitting those shots. Indiana shot just 34.4%, but did have three players shoot 50% in heavy work load (though no one over). Lance Stephenson had 14.
The big swing in the game came in the second quarter. The Pacers trailed 20-13 after one, and looked completely out of rhythm without West and with George struggling shooting. Jeff Pendergraph came in in the second quarter and was a huge push for Indiana, bringing them back into the game, helping to lead them to the halftime lead. He got back-up minutes with West's return in the second half, finishing with a 14 & 10 double double.
The center battle between Brook Lopez and Roy Hibbert was a big part of the game early, but Lopez's scoring proficiency helped take away Hibbert's normal advantages in those situations. Lopez had 25, while shooting below 50%, was 9-9 from the line. Hibbert on the other hand had six offensive rebounds, but struggled getting the ball in the basket, going just 5-18, and 2-5 from the free throw line.
Indiana's defense was good enough to hold Brooklyn under 40% shooting, but as was the case early in the year, a great defense can only be great if your offense can give you enough ammunition to win. One interesting case in tonight's game was with turnovers; Indiana had just eight, but nearly half of them came in outlet passes when the Pacers tried to push the tempo. Those failures to get easy points played a direct factor in the scoreboard late.
The Pacers fall to 31-21, but will still be in first place in the division with Chicago losing. The loss does give Brooklyn the season series clinching win, and brings them to within a game of the Pacers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana has one more game before the All-Star Break, taking on the Charlotte Bobcats in a game they cannot afford to let become another home loss.