What little success the decimated Indiana Pacers have found this season has been due to their effort creating opportunities for them and putting them in position to win late. If the Pacers were going to lose, it was going to take work for their opponents. But tonight was the first time the Pacers showed the type of team they could be without help, without focus, and most of all, without effort.
The Pacers had success in the first quarter, holding a steady six point advantage, but saw the tides shift with Denver's bench, as JaVale McGee and Gary Harris (making his NBA debut) rattled off a 9-1 run for the Nuggets to put them ahead 27-25 nearing the end of the first quarter. Another 7-0 run pushed the lead to seven and it was all Indiana could do from that point to keep the game reasonable as the Nuggets would slowly begin pulling away.
Denver would push their lead to 18 at halftime, outscoring Indiana 34-19 in the quarter. That wasn't the end of it, with the Nuggets pushing their advantage all the way to 33 in the third quarter to essentially wrap things up as the Pacers fought through a quarter of garbage time, falling 108-87, seeing their two game winning streak come to an end, dropping them to 3-7.
This was really the first night when Indiana allowed their lack of talent catch up to them. They played soft, getting smacked on the offensive glass by allowing 13, and showed no real interest in defense at times in the game, allowing 44 points in the paint. The Pacers had just 13 turnovers, but still let up 22 points from those turnovers. The Nuggets saw their shooting dip to 49.4%, but shot well over 50% for the bulk of the night.
C.J. Miles returned tonight after migraines to play four minutes in the fourth quarter, score two points from the line, and summarily leave the game with a right calf strain, not to return. While Miles seemed optimistic about the strain, it will likely set the stage for another hardship exception deal for A.J. Price, who was Indiana's leading scorer with 14 points tonight, though 12 of those came with the team already down 30 points.
Outside of solid opening quarters from Roy Hibbert and Solomon Hill, it was just as dreadful an individual night for everyone as it was a dreadful team night. Hibbert had five of his nine points in the first quarter, playing as poorly as he has this season with just four boards and two blocks. Hill had some great moves towards the basket early, but after eight first half points, made little to no impact the remainder of the night.
Lavoy Allen had a similar disappearing act after eight first half points turned into a 12 point, eight rebound night. Chris Copeland had his season worst output of three points, shooting 1-10 from the floor. Unlike Hill's poor shooting night from Wednesday, Copeland did nothing of the things Hill did to still allow his game to come out ahead, getting torched by Wilson Chandler and making numerous questionable decisions on the floor.
As Frank Vogel said after the game, "We're not good enough or experienced enough to not play harder than our opponent." He also added, "We got to play way harder than every team we play every night, to have a chance." There's a dire state regarding Indiana's talent level that doesn't afford them off nights if they hope to win any games. Especially with Miles's return to action being so short lived.
Whether tonight's blowout puts Indiana in a positive mindset for revenge tomorrow night will be seen, but it will be another quick turnaround for the Pacers, who will wrap up another back-to-back on the road against the Chicago Bulls. The Pacers are winless on the second night of back-to-backs at 0-3 (though, they're also winless on the first night of back-to-backs) and while Chicago may be without Derrick Rose, they don't have nearly the talent shortage Indiana has, putting the Pacers in a difficult position to avoid slipping into another lengthy losing streak.