About halfway through the fourth quarter, when any shred of doubt about the Indiana Pacers coming away with a win was erased, things somehow looked worse than they did when they opened with the worst first quarter in Pacers NBA franchise history. Indiana played poorly out of the gate, wrapping up a 4-20 shooting quarter for eight points, as they trailed 28-8, forcing them to play catch up all night.
The Pacers found life in the second quarter, starting the quarter on a 19-3 run to trim the lead to four, but unable to come any closer than three, the Charlotte Bobcats pushed their halftime lead to nine thanks to a 6-0 run, and when Indiana began the third quarter 1-12 from the floor, allowing Charlotte to push their lead back to 18 at 60-42, it was the same old story for Indiana's starting unit, which not only dug the hole in the first quarter, but erased whatever good will the bench had built in the second.
Indiana found some offensive life in the fourth quarter thanks to Chris Copeland and George Hill, but for every shot Indiana made, Charlotte was right there to respond with three points it seemed. Three point shooting drew Indiana within 14, but it was meaningless with the barrage of Charlotte offense. When the dust settled, Indiana got rolled in a 109-87 loss, allowing 36 fourth quarter points for their troubles.
For as good as the Bobcats should feel about their waxing of the Pacers, the Pacers could stand to actually take something from a loss at some point. They somehow, inexplicably, shot 40.8% tonight, which seems astronomically high given the absurd number of easy shots that didn't go, but coupled with Charlotte having it easy all night, dropping 51% with nine three pointers with three three point plays in the fourth quarter, each Indiana miss felt like a compound of woes that never stopped piling up.
Indiana had 18 turnovers on the night, leading to 22 Charlotte points, with the Pacers losing the points off turnover battle 22-7, the points in the paint 44-24, and the fast break points 23-7. Al Jefferson took it to whatever poor sap had the misfortune of "defending" him, scoring 34 points on 16-25 shooting (though Copeland did a decent job for stretches in the fourth), as the Bobcats had six double figure scorers, including 11 from Cody Zeller and 12 from Josh McRoberts.
Individually, George Hill kept Indiana in the game on his own for long stretches with his three three pointers as he led the worst showing from the starting unit all season with 17 points. Lance Stephenson had 10 first half points, but was invisible in the second with just two, but still a better showing than Indiana's front court, which combined for 16 points, led by David West with 10 points on what was a 4-14 shooting night and really exhausted showing from him.
His performance looked downright dominate compared to Roy Hibbert, who mastered his own disappearing act on a 2-8 shooting night for four points and four rebounds, which was better still than Paul George, who went 0-9 from the field, picking up more offensive fouls than points. The Indiana bench kept made this as much of a game as it could be, with Luis Scola having a solid second quarter as part of his eight points in 14 minutes.
Evan Turner shot the ball well after a slow start, finishing with a team high 22 points on 9-12 shooting with the Chris Copeland microwave offense coming in handy for 11 points on 3-5 shooting in the fourth quarter. But without stops, or any ability to get stops, their offensive outputs were largely moot. Thus wrapped up Indiana's second straight loss, their second of the season, as they drop to 46-15.
The issue for Indiana moving forward is that their less than stellar play through February has begun to result in actual, honest losses, which makes their five game winning streak against bottom feeders seem like a distant memory. While there's a long way to turn things around before the playoffs start and really little doubt that they will, their 1.5 game lead over the Miami Heat is sure to disappear sooner rather than later, setting them up for a potential second seed that will have been decided thanks to this stretch.
Things don't get easier for Indiana, who start a Texas two step on Friday night facing the surging Houston Rockets. Indiana had little trouble earlier this season against Houston, but given where both teams are right now, this game expects to be anything but for the Pacers, who will look to avoid their first three game skid of the season.