The Indiana Pacers couldn't slow down Josh Smith. They couldn't rebound at a respectable rate. They gave up to many three pointers and three point plays. They routinely went away from what was working for them. They couldn't hit the free throws they were given. They didn't play smart when they had the ball. They couldn't get the necessary stops on the other end.
The result is another loss for the blue and gold, and like almost all of them, it stings because they didn't play like the team they've shown capable of at points earlier in the season. Indiana jumped out to a 7-2 lead on the Atlanta Hawks, and when they failed to put the game at 9-2, it flipped around completely, becoming the typical Pacers/Hawks fair, where Atlanta simply does everything and Indiana struggles to keep the game within ten. And through much of the first half, it was all Indiana could do to keep it within that ten point margin. When they'd get it to seven, Atlanta would rattle off four. When they cut it to six, it was only a matter of time before Atlanta popped a three pointer to give the Hawks another 5-6 points.
The Pacers didn't help matters themselves by not being smart and taking every possession as seriously as they should've in a game they'd be clawing to come away, and it resulted in a lot of missed opportunities. But it was Josh Smith who kept the Pacers at bay early and often, despite the best efforts from a zoned in David West, who did everything in his part to get Indiana back into the game. Despite all of the struggles, Indiana was still able to stay within striking distance, and used strong play at the end of the second to bring the game within four.
In the third quarter, Indiana pushed and continued to cut the lead, but every single time, every single possession, Josh Smith was there again and again to respond, scoring the first 11 points of Atlanta's third quarter points. But without any help from his teammates, the Pacers were able to finally get back into the lead thanks to David West, but immediately, Marvin Williams drilled a three to put Atlanta back up.
The timely three point shooting was a big part of Atlanta being able to keep the Pacers at arm's length. In the fourth quarter, the Pacers did everything they could to climb back into the game, but Jannero Pargo had three killer three pointers at the start of the fourth to demoralize and squash every bit of momentum Indiana had going. And that's what it ultimately came down to. Indiana fought for everything, but all Atlanta had to do was hit one shot to turn a one point game into what may as well have been an 7-point game.
Indiana had their chances down the stretch when they finally cooled off Smith, but inability to execute on the offensive end, getting away from their success at driving and settling for one pass jumpers, doomed them as time simply ran out. Unfortunately, given the flow of the game, it could've gone until Indiana claimed the lead, the game may never have ended.
So it was one of those nights, against that team, and the result is the Pacers second straight loss in their nine game gauntlet of doom. Frank Vogel was absolutely downtrodden in the post game interview, it was clear the team's inability to win even one small battle was incredibly frustrating to the coach. The Hawks entered the night short handed, but remain a dangerous team so long as Josh Smith is as focused in as he is. Atlanta improves to 12-0 when Smith reaches the 20-point marker, so when he had 16 points at the half, and ended up hitting 12 of his first 15 shots for 27 points, it should've been no real surprise the Pacers would come up short.
After the jump, some more on a disappointing loss:
- David West really had a solid game offensively. For everything the Pacers struggled to do on that side of the ball, West was able to bring. He finished the night with a season high 24, but more importantly, did so on 10-13 shooting, making everything count when he got the basketball. Unfortunately, where he struggled, so too did the team as he only finished with three rebounds, as Indiana lost again in the rebounding battle.
- Danny Granger didn't have a poor game, though some defensive lapses were haunting, but that's hardly all on Danny given the number of times Atlanta capitalized on Indiana's defense, but he wasn't great either. He finished 6-17 from the field with 19 points, but didn't get a lot of great looks, or rather, didn't get himself in position to make great shots very often. As well, Danny was an uncharacteristic 5-8 from the free throw line, a woe that, along with rebounding, was also a team woe, as Indiana finished 29-40 from the stripe. Missing eleven in a five point game? Probably best not to think about it.
- Darren Collison continued to struggle and despite a strong defensive effort early against Derrick Rose, he just had nothing for the Atlanta point guards. He finished the game on the bench with George Hill closing out the game at the point guard role, a move that was certainly to do with the better play Hill had displayed, but also came back to the lack of high quality play Collison displayed.
- Roy Hibbert had a weird game. It seemed he wanted nothing to do with the offensive side of the ball in the first half, passing away from shots he normally takes. In the second, he became more active, but really didn't look in rhythm at all, as some big shots got away from him when he took them. He was able to get to the line and hit at his rate, but it was still just enough that it wasn't enough in the end.
Indiana has certainly struggled against Atlanta, and that doesn't seem to be changing so long as they don't have an answer for Josh Smith, but the road doesn't get any easier. To say the Pacers can't hang with the Hawks is one thing, it's Indiana's next opponent, the Miami Heat, that has made the Hawks matchup seem favorable this season. Indiana has gotten blown out of the water in both Miami games, so Saturday's game doesn't even seem so much as a "What can the Pacers do to win?" type of game as it does a "What can the Pacers do to stay within 20 points?" type of game.
But the Pacers have three days to figure out what their struggles have been and work on getting better, and if they can't at least come close in Miami, the front office should be looking to add some help as Indiana hasn't had a win against a winning team since February 5th, a streak that has reached seven straight losses.