Given where the Indiana Pacers are with regards to injuries, especially as they suffer another blow with Rodney Stuckey coming up with a sore left foot at the end of the first quarter, tonight seemed like the best possible outcome for the Pacers against a team with any kind of NBA talent. The Pacers fought, they clawed, and they gave themselves numerous opportunities to steal a solid road win on the road against the Atlanta Hawks.
But the Pacers, who found themselves on the wrong side of a 40-23 with 7:31 in the second quarter, would find themselves in a battle against not only the Hawks, but their own mistakes and limitations in attempting to overcome a 17-point deficit over the course of the next 31 minutes. And if it's one thing the Pacers had, it was opportunities. Indiana used a 12-1 run late in the half to trim a 16-point deficit to five.
From that point, the lead became a game of keep away for the Hawks, who managed to keep just enough distance between themselves and Indiana to avoid the game becoming a real concern. Every time Indiana came within 6-7 points, the Hawks would get the lead back to double figures, forcing Indiana to dig deep simply to get it within two possessions before missed shots, turnovers, or timely Hawks buckets would put Indiana right back in a double figure hole.
But Indiana was never truly out of it, fighting all the way to within three points on a 9-2 run with just over a minute remaining and the Hawks leading 95-92. Jeff Teague was big down the stretch not only with the dagger bucket to respond, but keeping the Pacers away from any real game tying opportunities with a pair of big jumpers in the last two minutes.
Indiana saw what may end up being the recipe for success if they are to have any success in how they shot the three point shot. The Pacers out-Hawked the Hawks, shooting 32 three pointers and hitting 12, including six by Chris Copeland who led the Pacers with 21 points. Copleand was on point with his three point shooting tonight, going 6-11, including six rebounds and four assists.
The same issues that turned a potential win against Memphis into a loss came into play again tonight, with Indiana struggling again with turnovers (18 leading to 20 Atlanta points) and having no way to defend fast breaks, with the Hawks cruising to a 15-5 fast break advantage. Indiana did do well on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks by seven, including coming up with 11 offensive boards, four from Luis Scola.
Scola had a nice rebound from last night's game, scoring 12 points and coming up with 10 boards, including some great hustle plays late in the game to give Indiana opportunities late. He still came up with three turnovers, something the team needs to get in order, not only from Scola's part, but with his teammates to get where he's throwing some of these passes.
Solomon Hill had his best game of the season (and thus, career), coming up with not only his first double figure night, scoring 10, but actually making an impact on the game as a whole. With Stuckey down, the Hill as a point guard phase began, and it's clear the team knew what they were doing in that regard, as Hill was certainly not a disaster when Donald Sloan needed rest. Hill had five rebounds and six assists to go with his 10 points.
Roy Hibbert also had a solid outing with 14 points and 12 rebounds for his first double double of the year. Hibbert was a huge part of Indiana's success late in the first half to help trim a double figure lead to within five, helping prove an anchor on defense. While 12 rebounds may be a bit high, 14 points and three blocks are well in line with what Hibbert should be capable of on a night to night basis, but of course, with his role expanding due to injury, it's hard to say it's enough or a success if Indiana is expected to win games.
But that holds true for everybody on the roster. Aside from Copeland's 21 points, everyone's contributions were well in line with quality role player nights, which is what everyone that's healthy on the team short of Hibbert are. C.J. Miles didn't have much on his shot, but came up with 10 points and Donald Sloan continued to go point for shot with 14 points on 14 shots. Lavoy Allen was solid again in limited minutes with six points and six rebounds.
Unfortunately, what Indiana needs right now to win games isn't role player contribution, but star player contribution. But that is something the Pacers simply don't have despite their best efforts; and this was the best effort Indiana has put forth this season. A number of quality defensive possessions, broken by bad mistakes on offense, show some progress, however little, this group is making.
What that means moving forward is pretty unclear, though it's unquestionable tonight's loss was more in line with what fans have come to expect from the Pacers as opposed to even wins from the second half of last season. This kind of effort will give Indiana a chance to get back to .500 when they host the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.