The Pacers survived to notch another win over the pesky Milwaukee Bucks, a team with the NBA's worst record yet nowhere near the worst level of effort or playing rotation. Both the starting and reserve units for the Bucks were more impressive than what we saw from the dinged up Lakers last Tuesday. Plus, the Bucks have several perimeter players who are eager to let it fly, hand in the face or not.
Milwaukee's let 'er rip attitude made for an up and down night for the Pacers. Fortunately, Roy Hibbert delivered the difference for the Pacers, scoring 14 points on seven shots in the second half to finish with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
But just as the Bucks aren't playing like the worst team in the league despite having the worst record, the Pacers aren't playing like the best team in the league. The point in the schedule and recent changes to the roster are easy to lean on for reasons why the Pacers are just getting by of late, but ultimately, the level of play and ability to win or lose any game is up to them.
That's a good thing, to be able to control the outcome of games, but it also makes it hard to simply point to the opponent and say, "too good" when things go the other way. We've seen what they are capable of against Miami, at San Antonio, and at LA Clippers earlier this year. 48 minutes of high-level play fueled by an elite defense.
Lately, the Pacers have tried to get by with turning it on for a few minutes here and there, usually finding a stretch in the third quarter to try to take control of the game. On Thursday night, the Pacers turned it on just enough to hold off the Bucks. Keeping the visitors scoreless over the final five minutes of the third quarter proved to be enough to keep the Bucks chasing but not catching the Pacers throughout the fourth quarter.
The Bucks didn't go away peacefully though which ends up being a good thing. As we head into March, the Pacers can't take any opponents or wins for granted, so their recent wins over the Bucks should serve as a cheap lesson in showing up ready to play every night. But I'm beginning to wonder if the Pacers can regain that singular focus on the team, trying to win every possession.
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