Believe it or not, while picking through the carnage of another disappointing loss last night, I found a few signs of hope for the Pacers.
The first was a couple hours prior to the opening tip as assistant coach Dan Burke was working out Roy Hibbert. I always enjoy watching these guys put in the work required to develop their game. Burke was running Roy through various drills that focused on his options from a high post, pick and roll situation.
The key to maximizing your options in such a situation is reading the defense to determine whether to pass, drive or shoot in a split second. Over time such reactions become reflexive without the thinking process slowing down the play. Roy is getting there as was evident when he completed several plays later during the game on the exact situations he was working on a couple of hours earlier.
I actually witnessed a light bulb go off during his work as Burke explained a move where, with his back to the basket, Roy would jab step toward the middle of the lane then with the defender chasing the fake pull back for a jumper. After a couple of reps, Roy actually said, "Ohhh, I'm going to use that tonight." He got it. It felt good.
Burke was quick to temper his enthusiasm and reiterate that he should only attempt it if his defender was in a certain position behind him. That situation never arose, so Roy didn't roll out the fresh move during the game. Instead the move goes in the bag of tricks Roy is working to develop that will make him a tough cover for years to come.
Another sign of growth was Danny Granger's 15 fourth quarter points. Not the points themselves, but when and how Danny scored the points. Listening to Danny talk after the game, he wasn't concerned with the points either, only the "demoralizing" outcome.
"I've always had confidence in my ability to score the ball. It's almost getting to the point that I don't really care anymore. I just want to get a win. I can score 30-40 points and we lose, what's the point? I would rather score 20 and win. I don't even look at it anymore. I just keep seeing our losses pile up and it's real disappointing."
Feeling that sense of desperation to win the game, Danny is so wrapped up in the effort to win and do whatever is possible to make it happen that he is letting it all hang out in crunch time. Nothing could be worse than what the team has gone through in the past few weeks so there's no longer pressure to be the go to guy. The pressure is just to win by any means necessary.
By playing with that mindset, Granger has actually grown as a go to guy by developing ways to create shots in desperate times down the stretch. I counted at least three of his buckets late in the game on Sunday that required him to adjust his shot and score in the face of an attentive defense. The Hornets knew they had to stop Danny but they couldn't.
Through much of last year and earlier this year, there was no consistent player willing to step up with the game on the line. Danny himself, seemed to shy away from the big moments at times or simply come up short. There have still been situations late in games this year when the ball hasn't made it to Danny's hands for the deciding play. After the past couple of weeks, it may be time to revisit that strategy.
It appears that Danny seems more comfortable and ready to execute in these tight, late-game situations having experienced so much adversity in close games this season. Danny agreed and expressed his confidence in creating a shot in crunch time.
"It's part of my development as a player. I learned I'm not always going to be open so I'm going to have to create shots for myself. I have so much confidence in my shot, if I can get a good look at it, I don't care if I'm leaning left, right or fading back, I think I've got a good chance to make it."
Losses tend to overshadow everything that happened on the court during a game and cover all of the effort in a negative blanket, but the fact is that the growth and development of a team does occur during adverse times and these are just a couple of examples of the progress the Pacers are making through this stretch of tough losses.