There's something about playing the Boston Celtics that brings out a tenacious, ball-hungry and shot-making Indiana Pacers team. And then, there's something about a fourth quarter that always brings out the true identity of the blue and gold.
After cruising to a 15-point halftime lead behind the spirited play of Earl Watson and Troy Murphy, the Pacers figured out another way to throw away a double-digit lead for the seventh time this season. Playing against one of the league's best, the Pacers turned the ball over (seven of the team's 19 TO's occurred in the fourth) coupled with a three-minute shooting slump that allowed Paul Pierce and the Celtics to stage a comeback 103-94 victory and hand the Pacers their fourth straight loss.
It was just another game where the Pacers jumped out to a big lead. Watson and Murphy helped lead the offense early as Murphy was dropping a slick-looking stroke from the outside, and even dropped a few moves in the post en route to his 24 points and season-high 18 boards. Watson, who started at the point for the third straight game, looked like he had all but locked up hearing his name in the starting unit after his stellar first half. All of his 18 points came in the half that helped extend a Pacers' 28-21 first-quarter lead to a 15-point advantage by halftime.
But even the most casual Pacers observer could see the second half unfold before it happened. With the Celtics trailing 66-54 in the third, the green rolled out 13 straight points (with Ray Allen dropping nine of them) to take the team's first lead of the game with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
Boston, playing without star Kevin Garnett who missed the game with a right thigh bruise, was led by Pierce's fourth-quarter outburst of seven straight unanswered points in three minutes to take the game from an 86-86 tie with 6:41 remaining to help put the game out of reach.
Another blown lead. Another loss. Take from this one what you want. At least the team didn't get blown to smithereens in the confines of one of the best teams in the league. But it was another case of not having enough firepower down the stretch. After Luther Head dropped the first two points of the fourth quarter, only Troy Murphy had anything going down the stretch. Murph was the only Pacer to score from the nine-minute mark to the three-minute point. Per usual, the Pacers have plenty of weapons in the first half, but those weapons start shooting blanks in crunchtime. Maybe it's a case of youth, inexperience and lack of talent, but the Pacers will continue to drop big leads until problems like this are fixed. And that's not even mentioning the team's defense in the fourth. Moving on...
Check out the jump for more notes about the loss and add your thoughts on the game.
- Earl Watson is not letting go of his starting position, and Luther Head is gaining steam to be his consistent backup. Watson played 36 minutes tonight as he led the team from the point by shooting 6-of-13 from the field, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing six assists and finishing with 18 points (all of which came in the first half). Minus the five turnovers and his play in the final two minutes (one missed 3-pointer, two fouls and a botched pass), Watson continues to impress. Head used his 17 minutes to add seven points. As for T.J. Ford..
- ...the former starting pg made it known in the Indianapolis Star this morning that he was obviously unhappy about how his season has played out, but that he accepts whatever role is dealt to him. On Tuesday, Ford was given even a more limited portion of playing time. Ford had six points and two turnovers in 12 minutes, and even that seemed like too much playing time. With Watson playing well enough (although it's still obviously not on par with Rajon Rondo's of the league) and Head creeping into the rotation, Ford's role could get murkier and murkier. Nothing like a good point guard controversy to keep things interesting during a bad season. Nothing wrong with some drama.
Pierce finished with 21 points, going 12 for 13 from the free throw line. Kendrick Perkins scored 19 points to go with eight rebounds, and Rasheed Wallace finished with nine points and 13 rebounds.
- The back-to-back games hurt Mike Dunleavy, who might have been bothered by his knee tonight after playing 30 extensive minutes against the Bucks on Monday. He only mustered 19 minutes of play and his six points aren't going to be making any highlight reels. Tyler Hansbrough, another player who still must be watched in back-to-back situations, was also only on the court for 19 minutes. He grabbed five boards and put in two points.
- The loss drops the Pacers to a 9-18 record, ranking them 13th in the Eastern Conference along with the fifth-worst record in the NBA. Indiana has an extended break over the X-mas holiday. The team returns to action on Saturday against Atlanta.