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Jazz 96, Pacers 87: Pacers Leave Win Safe And Sound In Utah

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The Utah Jazz led the whole game, but the Indiana Pacers still should have won.

One problem, though -- they only count points if you put the ball in the basket.

If the Pacers had even an average shooting night, they would've swiped a road win in Utah and been rewarded for digging themselves out of an early hole. Instead, at winning time in the fourth quarter, the Pacers came up empty, allowing the Jazz to hang on for the win, 96-87.

The Pacers really dug in defensively, early in the fourth quarter and earned a few stops which they used to cut the lead. Then the Jazz just caught a case of the clanks, themselves, giving the Pacers ample opportunity to not only catch up on the scoreboard but even take control of the game.

Consider it opportunity lost.

With 8:36 left in the game, Brandon Rush hit a three-pointer to draw the Pacers within four at 82-78. They had been stuck trying to get over the 7-point hump most of the half, so this was a breakthrough. Momentum seemed to be fully on the Pacers' side. Warm up the get-a-way plane, a W theft appeared to be in progress.

But alas, all of that good feeling oozed away slowly and painfully until the final buzzer.

When forced to scrape up a shot in the half-court, the Pacers had trouble just passing the ball around, let alone running a set play or any semblance of motion to create a good look. We're talking game-on-the-line, two or three possession game with plenty of time and the Pacers have four guys looking at each other on the perimeter simply trying to pass it to one another.

The spacing is cramped, everyone is easily covered and a contested, off-balance shot seems like a relief. Twice, Danny Granger couldn't even get his shot to the rim as he forced it up while wearing Wesley Matthews. One shot attempt was so bad, Matthews was credited with a steal.

In fact, those two possessions were among the many empty possessions after Rush's hope-lifting three. From that point with 8:36 left in the game, the Pacers only scored two points over the next five minutes of game time.

Incredibly, the Jazz were nearly as bad on offense and couldn't put away the Pacers, which brings us to the final two minutes of the game. The Pacers were down 92-87 after T.J. Ford made a layup with 1:54 remaining in the game. Plenty of time. Plenty of options. Even after the Jazz moved up by seven points on their next possession, there was still a chance.

Of course, you've seen the score, the Pacers didn't score again. Worse, their attempts to do so, again forced the eyebrows to raise along with the blood pressure. They were playing like they DIDN'T have a chance. Dahntay Jones shots a corner three with no one in rebounding position. He's not a three-point shooter. It seemed like a desperation shot. A lot can happen in the NBA with 1:14 left.

Just not tonight.

The game stayed at seven while the Pacers continued to shoot rushed, long 3-balls. In that final 1:14 the Pacers would shoot five three-pointers, all out of rhythm and all making it easy on the Jazz to close out the game.

A few more thoughts:

  • The game started with a 22-3 run by the Jazz. Utah ran off of turnovers and missed shots, used some crafty interior passing and made oodles of easy buckets. The Pacers meanwhile appeared afraid of the paint and shot jumper after jumper without moving the ball or bodies in search of a better option. By the time the dust settled on the first quarter, the Pacers were down 32-14 and they were lucky it was that close. Not sure if this was rock bottom, but with the lack of energy early and the soft play, it sure seemed like the Pacers had touched some limestone.
  • The Pacers came to life in the second quarter, working the ball into the lane more and drawing some fouls (funny how that happens). The shots from the line and the field started falling and with 45 seconds left in the half, the Pacers had the ball and a chance to cut the what was once a seemingly insurmountable lead down to five. Instead, the possession ended in a turnover and before the half ended, the Jazz reeled off six quick points to push the lead back to 13. All that hard work climbing back into the game, gone in an instant.
  • The Pacers started their comeback in the third quarter comeback, but again made it tough on themselves with their poor free throw shooting. At one point, Troy Murphy and T.J. Ford missed 6 of 8 freebies. The second-half free throw woes were an important part of the losing equation.
  • Last year, the Pacers seemed to always have a random player from the opponent go off for a career or season-high in points. Tonight, rookie Wesley Matthews had a career-high 18 points to go along with some solid defense on Danny Granger. Also, Carlos Boozer had a season-high 35 points along with 13 rebounds.
  • After a huge game on the glass in Sacramento, the Pacers only gathered three offensive rebounds compared to 14 o-rebs the Jazz utilized quite nicely.