The Indiana Pacers officially made this the season of Costanza where the opposite of expected results are the norm.
Tonight the Pacers followed up an exciting, hard-earned victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers by dumping a road game with little resistance to the Milwaukee Bucks, 122-110.
This situation is quite familiar when you thing about the game the Pacers lost to Charlotte after winning at Houston, or the six straight games lost after beating the Lakers at the buzzer. Then there was the recent win over Orlando which was preceded by losses to Minnesota and Philly and followed by a loss at Washington.
This loss puts the Pacers 4.5 games behind short-handed Bucks who just kept coming at the Pacers all night, forcing the action. The Pacers simply couldn't meet the challenge. The defense was often late rotating or just didn't rotate at all which gave the Bucks easy buckets at the rim or foul shots. In fact, the Bucks kept the Pacers in the game by missing 12 of their 41 foul shots on the night.
Look, I understand the emotional hangover from a big win the night before along with the bags being packed for a few days of vacation around the All-Star break. But the Pacers just don't have the luxury of letting up for a minute for the rest of the season. They've already let way too many opportunities slip by so I don't want to allow any excuses to change the context of this loss. It was bad.
The game was close throughout until the end, but there Pacers could never get firing on all cylinders and played with a serious sense of blah. One play in particular summed up the night for me late in the game. With 1:25 left in the game the Bucks were up 113-108. Obviously, the Pacers needed a stop badly at this point. The Bucks had the shot clock dwindling to five seconds when Richard Jefferson took a pass moving toward the hoop at the right top of the arc. Granger went toward the ball in the opposite direction, so Jefferson was clear to drive to the hoop.
Troy Murphy reached out and grabbed Jefferson to put him at the line where he made both to push the lead to seven. The problem was that Jefferson drove from the top of the arc to the hoop with Murphy, Jarrett Jack and T.J. Ford all in the vicinity. In fact, Jefferson went through the middle of them. None of the three even attempted to step in and draw a charge. In fact, I wasn't sure anyone was going to at least foul him at one point.
I know this is only one play, but it is still revealing. These are three of your best players and team leaders at a point of desperation in a must-win game (they're all must win, right?) and no one steps up. Enjoy the break, fellas.
A few other thoughts:
- Danny Granger had a frustrating night, unable to get anything going until hitting a couple of 3's late in the game. He just seemed agitated and off his game. The knee seemed fine, but his shooting was off all night as he finished 5-18 from the floor. By taking advantage of his trips to the line, he still finished with 26 points which considering his struggles is impressive.
- Brandon Rush played heavy minutes as he should the rest of the season. He definitely looked to score when the opportunities presented themselves. In 35 minutes he finished with 9 points and 6 rebounds. He was able to get his hands on a lot of balls defensively and had 2 blocks and 2 steals.
- Roy Hibbert struggled at the defensive end joining his teammates in being a step late on defense all night. Roy picked up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. He would end up only playing 10 minutes, but did have a few nice buckets in his minimal playing time.
- The Bucks took advantage of another huge game from Ramon Sessions who finished with 15 points and 17 assists. Sessions flashed some eye-opening speed with the ball in the open court.
- Troy Murphy came out smoking again, hitting 3's from all over. Murph finished with 23 and 10 to continue his incredible production of late.
- The Pacers next six games are certainly winnable which makes them a challenge in this Costanza season, but how the team plays or more importantly, who plays will be interesting. Even if Foster, Dunleavy and Quisy return, Rush and Hibbert need to continue playing some minutes.