Welp, that didn't work.
Frank Vogel shuffled his starting lineup against the Toronto Raptors by letting C.J. Watson open at point guard with C.J. Miles at small forward, altering the playing rotation to bring Solomon Hill off the bench.
The Raptors won the game running away, 106-94 but it didn't have much to do with the Pacers starting lineup. In fact, the new group played less than six minutes before Solomon Hill replaced Rodney Stuckey after Stuck picked up an early second foul.
Before the half was over, C.J. Miles was hurt and Vogel had tried several different lineup options. Big, small, even micro with Watson, Stuckey and Donald Sloan all playing at the same time. Yet it seemed like the Pacers were always down eight points.
Regardless of which players were on the floor, the Paces simply didn't have enough for the Raptors who brought plenty of playmakers off the bench to wear out the Pacers.
Lou Williams started the bench barrage for Toronto. If it wasn't Williams, then Greivis Vasquez was making plays. If not, Vasquez, then James Johnson was flying through the lane while Patrick Patterson gave a steady contribution throughout the game. Williams scored 26 points as the Toronto bench combined for 64 points which was the difference despite the Pacers bench scoring 45 points.
The reserve rotation to end the third quarter and start the fourth, played like a layup line for Toronto as they were able to extend that seemingly constant eight-point lead to as much as 19 and suck the last of any life out of the Pacers.
The good news is the Pacers get to go home. The bad news is they have to play the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.
A few more observations:
- Solomon Hill had an aggressive offensive night off the bench including a couple of big dunks in traffic. Hill finished with 16 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks.
- C.J. Miles banged his knee in the first half, tried to return but eventually shut it down for the night at halftime. The injury was officially classified as a bruised knee which means Miles may be back on Saturday or some time after New Year's.
- David West finally had what amounts to a decent game for the veteran team leaders with 12 points, 5 assists and 7 rebounds. West and teammates struggled to defend Toronto's pick n' roll all night but much of the problems there were on the guard not recovering.
- Unlike West, Roy Hibbert didn't approach decent with his play. He scored his first points (a pair of free throws) with four minutes left in the first half. At the time, he had zero rebounds. His first rebound came later with 30 seconds left in the half. Six points and 2 rebounds was nowhere near enough to neutralize his matchup with Jonas Valanciunas who finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds. JV's presence was actually felt on the court, as well.
- C.J. Watson was caught a few times on the pick n roll but overall played a strong game for the Pacers. His patience with the ball and ability to create for himself when necessary makes him a required starter until George Hill is ready. Watson didn't shoot it particularly well, but overall handled the point guard duties like a vet should.
- Donald Sloan played his first significant minutes since being demoted from the starting lineup. With 8 points, 4 assists and 0 turnovers, Sloan held his own in the reserve role, but also wasn't part of the solution on defense.
- Frank Vogel can shuffle the lineup until there are no other possible options to try, but none of them will work if the Pacers can't get a bigger, not to mention consistent, impact from Hibbert and West. The Pacers need to lean on their vets but instead as the going has gotten tough, neither has gotten going. Oh, and if you look ahead at the schedule, the "going" is going to remain tough.