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The Value of a Possession

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Basketball as a game is one of a kind. The extraordinary amount of possessions and the high volume of points make it easy to gloss over a single mistake, until it happens with seconds left on the clock. It’s easy to forget a player dribbling the ball off of his foot in the first two minutes of the game, because there’s still a long way to go. That one mistake won’t decide the game, will it?

To be fair, it can’t. One play can’t decide a basketball game. There are too many variables in every game to pin an entire loss on Jim O’Brien for having Jeff Foster guard Andrew Bogut. It’s a collection of mistakes that decide games. It’s the team’s inability to grab a rebound in the first half, an ugly display of effort that made every Pacers fan sigh. "Well, we should be lucky we’re as close as we are," we muttered, shaking our heads and hoping for the best.

It wasn’t just Roy Hibbert’s disappointingly rushed shot on Indiana’s final possession or Luc Mbah a Moute’s brilliant lob to Bogut with .5 seconds. It was also Hibbert’s two missed free throws in the fourth quarter; the big man’s usually sure handed foul shooting limped to a 3-7 night. It was your 6’1" PG driving the lane against a seven foot Aussie. It’s settling for jump shots. It was letting the opposing fans rush you into a shot attempt. It was your sharpshooter clanking a three pointer off the side of the backboard. It was watching your wingman, the one who finally turned the corner; throw a backbreaking interception to coat the night in the stench of utter familiarity: a loss.

It was failing to understand the value of a possession.

Gosh, it just hit me: The Indiana Pacers are 10-10, their best record in three years, but they’re underachieving. They’re actually underachieving. All because they aren’t looking at every possession as a win or lose possession.

The Pacers fell to 2-5 in games decided by 5 points or less with their loss in Milwaukee, a trend that is anything but new in recent years. Tom has been preaching 50/50 games all season, and last night was a 50/50 game defined, and Indiana choked it away. It’d be more understanding if they’d closed out these close games consistently. After all, I don’t think you look at everything that went on that game and said, "We should’ve won this game." It wasn’t choking away the Oklahoma City game.

Actually, it kinda was; except they didn’t deserve to win in this case. But it would’ve been a great way to pull even and show progress, but once again, the team fails on a lack of possession value and come up short. It’s partially a youth thing. Indiana boasts one of the league’s younger starting fives, and despite extensive college success, professional team success hasn’t come to any of the starters. Maybe that’s the entire issue. The kids know how to win, but they aren’t able to put it together yet?

The Pacers have shown good ability to put games away quickly, but they have rarely come up big in stretch moments. I’d like to think we’re watching this team grow and start to get it, but it seems to be a tossup whether they actually do. Indiana has to get back to execution in late game situations. Without it, nights like last night happen. And this team can rarely afford a slip up, and while I don’t think it bodes poorly for a playoff berth, it’s important to show growth in the form of wins. The Pacers can be the best 39-43 team of all time; ultimately, it means nothing without wins.

New York is a great example of a team taking advantage of their situation by stocking up for winter. The Knicks improved to 14-9 last night, and are doing so feasting on weaker opponents, which should keep their head above water as they prepare for tougher schedule. The Pacers simply aren’t which creates a concern: Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and New Orleans are all on the horizon and failing to close out a couple of wins is the difference between four games over .500 and being right at .500.

For a team in the middle of the pack, wins are important when a tough stretch comes about. Indiana could brave this storm well, but last night’s loss won’t be the last, especially if we see more stretch play like it. Take a moment to realize we’re disappointed in the Pacers performance at times not because they’re getting run out of the gym and quitting on their coach, but because they’re .500 and underachieving. Enjoy it for a fleeting moment, but don’t let that cloud the fact we now expect things from our Pacers.

This team is growing up, but Oklahoma City proved last year that inexperience is only an excuse. And there’s no excuse for not getting the best possible shot out of every possession. One won’t lose you a game, but any of them could be the one preventing you from winning. That’s basketball, all right.