As has been the case all season, the back-to-back woes of the Indiana Pacers made itself known, this time in Minneapolis as the Pacers never put up much of a fight against the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 104-91 loss that was barely as close as the score indicated. The Pacers never led and if not for a 35-point night from Paul George, it'd have been a miracle for Indiana to reach 70 points.
Things started poorly, the Pacers dropped back 13-5 barely four minutes into the game and watched the game sit at 40-20 with 6:48 remaining in the second quarter. The Pacers hadn't scored in nearly five minutes as Minnesota used a 10-0 run to build the lead to 20 points. After a Pacers timeout, Indiana showed some life, slicing the lead down to seven in just four minutes. But there was Minnesota, led by Kevin Love, who sparked an 8-2 Minnesota run to close the half, putting them up 13.
In the third quarter, it became a duel between Love and George, but with Indiana playing catch up, it stayed simply that, especially with Love playing at such a high level, scoring a game high 42 points. Frank Vogel eschewed Luis Scola in the second half for Chris Copeland, and Copeland's three to open the fourth quarter helped Indiana cut a 10 point deficit in half, with Indiana trailing 82-77 with 11:03 remaining in the fourth.
But as was the case at the end of the half, Minnesota was there to respond, pushing the lead back to 15 on a 12-2 run, as Indiana went five and a half minutes without a field goal before George Hill pushed the lead down to 12. The Pacers never really threatened after cutting the lead to five, and it resulted in their 13th loss of the season, dropping them to 8-7 in the second night of back-to-backs, just 5-7 on the road.
While Indiana's performances on second nights has proven to be simply part of what the team is, the large number of back-to-backs and Indiana's lack of consistency in those games has put them in a difficult position when it comes to their chances at securing the #1 seed in the East (and overall as well). Their lead against Miami sits at just two, and they've fallen 1.5 games behind Oklahoma City for the best record in the league.
As a whole, tonight's performance, while par for the course for the second night of a back-to-back, simply extends Indiana's recent struggles overall. Vogel pointed out after the loss that this was just one game, but the problem is, this is one game that's become part of a larger trend in the past month. Indiana is just 8-6 in their last 14 games, nearly the total number of losses they had in the first 40 games (7). Defensively, they're not there right now. Offensively, they're not there right now.
They're, for all intents and purposes, really struggling right now, but they have to get through those struggles. The other top teams in the league aren't going to fall back for their sake and they haven't done a very good job capitalizing on their opportunities against weaker opponents. When the Pacers continue to turn the ball over at an alarming rate, that is a problem. When they aren't even challenging the transition game, that is a problem. The Pacers had 21 turnovers tonight, leading to 18 Minnesota points, while getting crushed in fast break points 18-8.
Indiana manged to up their shooting percentage up to 40% for the night, but it came in a game when no Pacers player shot over 50% on the night. George did nearly all of the heavy lifting with his team high 35 points on 11-22 shooting, but despite 11 rebounds and three steals, he was caught with seven turnovers, including a bad pass to Copeland in the fourth quarter that seemed to wreck all of their momentum.
Ian Mahinmi played well again tonight, but when you're talking about five points, two steals, and a block as one of your marquee performances, it just sets in stone how poor the entire team played tonight. Chris Copeland getting minutes was surprise and he offered up some interesting looks on offense as part of his six points. Beyond that, it was a forgettable game all around for the entire team.
George Hill was 4-8 for nine points, but on a night when David West was an awful 2-10 for four points, and Lance Stephenson was just 5-15, including four missed threes and clearly getting frustrated with the way the game was being officiated, it was unfortunate that he didn't call his number more often and try and take some scoring relief off of George. It certainly wasn't going to be Roy Hibbert, who had just four points on 2-5 shooting and played just 24 minutes.
Despite being the better team when they step on the floor, the Pacers haven't been anything close to the best team on any given night. It's why expecting wins and losses on a night to night basis in the NBA can often be difficult, but with the schedule becoming the softest it's going to be the rest of the way, Indiana's next five games can be nothing short of five cool wins. They'll tip off on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night as they look forward to games against the Lakers, Bucks (at home), and Jazz at home with a road contest in Boston.