At halftime, there was reason for optimism in Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the Indiana Pacers. After slogging through much of the first quarter, Indiana closed strong to close a nine point hole to four, expanding further in the second quarter to push into the lead, jumping ahead by as many as 13 late in the quarter thanks to a barrage of three pointers and Rodney Stuckey energy.
The Pacers even weathered an 8-0 run by Memphis in the final 80 seconds of the half to push the lead back to 13 early in the third quarter at 61-48. At that point, the talent difference set in for the two teams, with Memphis getting steady contributions from Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph to key a 26-2 run that turned Indiana's 13-point lead into an 11-point deficit.
In the run, which took about six and a half minutes of game action, featured Indiana shooting 1-11 from the floor and committing four turnovers, including three in a row at one point. Turnovers proved to be an issue for the Pacers all night, giving it away 18 times, leading to 14 Grizzlies points. For a team as depleted as the Pacers, who need to rely on positive stretches like they had in the second quarter, careless mistakes shrink their margin of error against quality teams like the Grizzlies.
Once Indiana fell behind, they were left in a difficult position in posing a threat in a comeback. Indiana did manage to cut the lead to within single digits in the final quarter, but careless mistakes, from more turnovers, to bad shots and other other poor decisions hurt their chances even more. In the end, Memphis proved too much for Indiana, wrapping up a 97-89 victory to drop Indiana to 1-1 on the year.
Until Indiana can get guys back, simply not being good enough is going to be a common trend for the Pacers, especially against playoff caliber opponents. The Pacers had five players in double figures, but no one on the team that appeared capable of carrying any kind of offensive load. Rodney Stuckey appears to be the only guy who has that ability, and until he's into game shape, will be limited in minutes.
Stuckey had 10 points in 13 minutes, with a pair of assists coming in the second quarter as Indiana mounted their biggest lead of the game. Stuckey helped change the complexion of the game when he entered off the bench, making it a bit of a curious decision to why Frank Vogel wants to start Stuckey. Stuckey seems perfectly suited for the sixth man role, where he can come in, bully opposing defenses, and give the Pacers bench a needed boost in scoring.
Indiana's bench as a whole gave Indiana the boost they needed tonight to not only put them in contention for the game, but build their halftime lead. The bench scored 49 points on the night, led by Chris Copeland who had 16. Copeland got plenty done on the offensive end with a number of moves around the basket, also playing some bully ball of his own to help lead Indiana in scoring.
While Copeland and Stuckey each reached double figures, neither was remotely efficient, with Stuckey putting up 10 shots and Copeland going just 5-14 from the field. One major issue Indiana looks to have this year, or at least until they can find healthy bodies, is the lack of go-to and efficient scoring options. It appears the Pacers simply don't have anyone capable of leaning on for long stretches the way they've been able to look towards David West the past few seasons.
Donald Sloan reached double figures with 12 points and seven assists, but on 11 shots, joined the brigade of poor efficiency that plagued Indiana's shooting throughout the game, joining C.J. Miles, who after a hot first half, wrapped up with 13 points on 5-12 shooting. Indiana didn't shoot poorly at 45.9%, but did themselves no favors with poor shot selection and turnovers. On a night that would test Roy Hibbert against Marc Gasol, Hibbert certainly showed very little, throwing in just eight points on 4-9 shooting with eight rebounds.
Not all of Hibbert's struggles against Gasol were his own doing. Early foul trouble sent Hibbert to the bench, and some poor defensive rotations in general gave solid looks to Gasol, who had no issues knocking down shots for 20 points. Zach Randolph was also a difficult cover for the Pacers, scoring a game high 22 with 13 rebounds, there was no one on the roster capable of matching wits with a player of Randolph's caliber.
It didn't help Indiana much defensively when looking at their dire situation at the power forward position. Luis Scola had five turnovers on the night with just two points to his name, a dreadful performance by all accounts, one that was shown up by Lavoy Allen, who pitched a solid enough eight point, 10 rebound effort that did enough to inspire potential confidence in Allen's spot in the rotation from Vogel.
The lone performance of shooting efficiency, however, came from an unlikely source, with Damjan Rudez putting up first double figure game as an NBA player, hitting three three pointers in the first half for 11 points, giving the Pacers a glimpse of what they were looking to bring him in as as a sharp shooter.
Indiana took on their first loss of the season, but won't have much time to dwell on it, with a road back-to-back opening up tomorrow in Atlanta when they face the Hawks at Philips Arena. It's Indiana's first back-to-back of the season, the first of five in November alone. The Pacers will be looking to avoid their first taste of multiple losses in a row, but will be in a difficult position in an unfriendly arena against a Hawks team that hasn't forgotten last year's Game 6 & 7 losses.