The Pacers managed to break the routine they had set on this road trip where they’d blown three leads in the fourth quarter by winning the fourth quarter. They also managed to get career highs from Tyler Hansbrough and Paul George. Just don’t look at the score, and this game is purely a net positive. If you happen to glance at it, know it’s surprising it was as close as it was.
Despite how badly the game turned out, the Pacers showed up in the first quarter and held the lead at the end of it. Yes, there was a time when Carmelo Anthony started the game 0-6 before exploding for six three pointers and 36 points and before Hansbrough had one of his rebounds taken away. To give an idea of how quickly this game went south: Danny Granger, Darren Collison, and Roy Hibbert each had half of their total offensive outputs in the first quarter. Granger hit his only two field goals of the game in the first.
Meanwhile, Anthony had found his rhythm and the Pacers interior defense that stopped the Nuggets for a good portion of the first dissipated, leaving Nene (and anyone with a will to drive) free reign at the basket. Indiana points were too far between, and the Nuggets pushed the game out to double digits before two of Jeff Foster’s eight pushed Indiana to within eight.
Unable to match the mythical 20-21 quarter set back in November, Indiana missed their first four shots as Carmelo Anthony hit three consecutive three pointers that put Denver up 15 despite Hansbrough’s best effort. From there, it became a Hansbrough/Anthony duel for the ages, as Hansbrough scored 15 of the Pacers first 16 points to keep the Pacers within 15 before his exit put the Nuggets up 20. Denver would have a lead as large as 25 before Indiana closed the game on a meaningless 11-0 run made it a little more reasonable of a final score.
The Pacers have taken it on the chin by single players on this trip, and have been destroyed as a result of it. Perimeter defense has really caused some problems of late; the Nuggets finished 11-20 on the night from three point land, and that will need to be addressed moving forward, but the Pacers have bigger issues on task, specifically, their record, which is now 16-25. It puts them just two games better than last year, and on pace for another 50-loss season. The Pacers let a potential 3-1 road trip slip to 0-4, and as a result, find themselves in tenth place in the Eastern Conference.
After the jump, sobering truths and compelling lies:
- Tyler Hansbrough had his Irrelevant Moment, posting another double double as well as a career high, finishing with 27 points and 10 rebounds, five of those on the offensive glass. While most of the team looked a little gassed and completely disinterested, Hansbrough was clearly fed up with the losing, and made every single effort he could to keep Indiana within striking distance. Unfortunately, no one came to help, and all that is left is another fine performance by a Pacer in a losing effort.
- Paul George was the closest to help Hansbrough would get, but was too busy in the third quarter getting welcomed to the NBA by Carmelo Anthony. Anthony was dropping everything over George, but it’s not to say George was even playing poor defense. He was doing his part, Anthony just wasn’t missing. When George was eventually pulled, Quinn Buckner went on to say it was great experience for George to stay on him. George played very well in his own right, finishing with a career high 17 points.
- Jeff Foster was the last of the generously respectable Pacer efforts, doing all he could to help the cause, finishing with 8 points and 9 rebounds. Foster also finished 4-4 from the line to go alongside last night’s 6-6 effort. Who would’ve thought Foster could be automatic at the line like this out of nowhere?
- Roy Hibbert had a strong first quarter with six points, but in his limited action (22 minutes), he would finish 6-15 from the field and get 6 rebounds. It's difficult to say if he's working out of his struggles, but he's played a little better of late, even though not much of Hibbert’s game made a huge difference, especially given the work Denver did inside. But it wasn’t nearly on the level of…
- Darren Collison, who finished the night 2-10 with 5 points, 2 assists, and (somehow, only) 3 turnovers. After really playing well so far in January, Collison had himself a truly terrible night to go alongside his below average night in Portland. More than once and more than twice was Collison chasing a ball that either bounced off his foot, or was stolen either on a pass or from his hands. That’s eight turnovers in two games from a player who’d done well to drop his turnover numbers this season.
- Danny Granger also finished 2-10, playing just 25 minutes. Generally, he was more irrelevant and invisible than Brandon Rush has been, exiting the game early with what was diagnosed as a "minor ankle sprain." He didn’t return, but I can’t lie; I didn’t even notice he wasn’t in the game when they mentioned it.
- Brandon Rush had a much better night himself than he had slipped into, going 3-3 from deep for 9 points and 5 rebounds. He didn’t make any significant drives to the basket, but hit the shots he took. It’s not quite the kind of impact Rush had made earlier, but was in line with what I suppose is a "typical" night for Rush, who was announced to be on "thin ice" regarding his rotation spot. He did come off the bench behind George.
- A.J. Price shot poorly, but still made plays. Despite 4 turnovers and 1-6 shooting, he finished with six points, all late in the third quarter, and set a career high with 8 assists. Price has been a steady offensive upgrade as a whole, even if he’s still working himself back into the flow of the game as a heavier minute PG (he played 27 of the 48 available minutes at the position, partially due to the blowout nature of the game).
So now what? The Pacers have extended their season long losing streak to five games, and will hope to snap that at home against Orlando on Wednesday, which will of course be a very tall order. Once they clear that, however, the schedule will ease up considerably; the Pacers face 12 below .500 teams in their following 17 games. Despite all the negatives that have seen the team drop to 7-18 since they once sat at 9-7, there’s still a glimmer of hope things can get turned around. If you can still have hope that is.