Expecting the Portland Trail Blazers to stumble in a repeat of the Indiana Pacers / Portland match on December 4th was a bit of a tall order and it only took one quarter to make the difference in tonight's affair. Portland went 14-18 in the second quarter as part of a 36-15 onslaught that dropped Indiana from a point up after one to 20 down at the break. Things didn't fair much better for Indiana out of the break, as the Blazers moved ahead 69-40 four minutes into the quarter.
The Pacers managed to chip away at the lead throughout the rest of the third, ending the quarter and starting the fourth on a 12-0 run that drew the Pacers to within 11 points at 82-71. While Portland's offense came crashing down, Indiana's wasn't much better. Indiana was able to find stops, but had four turnovers and four missed shots on their next eight possessions.
C.J. Watson put in five points to move Indiana to within eight at 84-76 with 4:48 remaining, but time began to catch up with the Pacers, who couldn't afford to trade baskets when either team did decide to score. The Blazers managed just enough offense to sink in a definitive dagger with just over a minute remaining, dropping the Pacers in a 95-85 final that featured a 19-13 fourth quarter.
The Pacers played well enough over the first quarter and the second half to win, but were stung by the second quarter. Indiana not only led 23-22 after the first quarter, but outscored Portland 47-37 in the second half. Unfortunately that second quarter proved every ounce of difference in tonight's game.
Indiana did a good job limiting their biggest struggles on the season; turnovers and transition points. They found far less success in the rim protection game, allowing 44 points to the Blazers inside, though the Pacers did find their first win in the rebounding game since the loss of Ian Mahinmi in Sacramento, their first in five games.
The offense for the Pacers continues to be dreadful, with another sub-40% shooting night at 38.6%, with C.J. Watson and Luis Scola the only Pacers above 50% on the night. Watson proved Indiana's comeback catalyst, scoring 17 of his season best 23 points as the Pacers chipped away at their 29 point deficit. Watson went 8-11, hitting all four of Indiana's threes, and dishing five assists.
Despite playing the hottest hand, Watson had no shot attempts after cutting the lead to eight points, with the Pacers missing on five of their next six shot attempts. David West was the only Pacer to hit a field goal until a Rodney Stuckey layup with seven seconds remaining. West went 6-13 on the night with six assists, but unable to take a surefire jumper that would've kept Indiana within eight proved too big for Indiana to overcome.
Roy Hibbert was hit early and often in the game, hitting three of his first four shots as Indiana took a 14-9 lead, but went 1-7 in the remainder of the game. Hibbert did rebound much better tonight, totaling a 10 point, 10 rebound double double, but still struggled against Robin Lopez, who had eight points, eight rebounds, and three blocks on the night. West and Hibbert did do a good job in the first half limiting the effectiveness of LaMarcus Aldridge despite Portland not needing his contributions until the second half.
Hibbert played up and down through most of the night, but Rodney Stuckey played mostly in the negative. He was 6-19 on the night for 14 points and picked up a double double with 14 rebounds, but his shot selection was poor a lot of the time, especially considering he wasn't hitting his shots. Chris Copeland also made some poor decisions as well, driving the ball with an effectiveness that resulted in two bad turnovers, as Copeland was limited to six minutes.
Lavoy Allen struggled as well in the backup five role, getting taken to work by Chris Kamen, who had 10 points and six boards. Allen has proven a capable rebounder, but without Mahinmi, the Pacers have really struggled imposing the rebounding game in their advantage, though they managed to do so tonight with a 49-46 advantage.
After beating the Charlotte Hornets on November 19th moved Indiana to 5-7, it was easy to see the schedule was going to stiffen up in a big way for the Pacers, who would go on to face 11 winning teams in the 12 games following the Charlotte win. A win against Dallas brought some hope, but the Pacers would go 2-10 in that stretch, which includes their current eight game losing streak.
The "legitimacy" of the Pacers so to speak was going to be put to the test on this current stretch, and if the results are in, then Indiana failed in a big way. Their eight game losing streak is their longest since March of 2007, when the collapse of the post-Dunleavy/Murphy trade Pacers slid them into an 11-game tailspin.
Worse yet, their 7-17 record stands the worst through 24 games since the 1988-89 season, the last time Indiana won less than 30 games and the last time they failed to post a winning record in Indianapolis. If there's any silver lining, the schedule lightens up for the Pacers, who will face five sub .500 teams in their next eight games, though with five games on the road, it's hard to figure how much of an advantage the Pacers will have.
Indiana will be at home on Monday night to face the Los Angeles Lakers, who sit at 7-16 on the season with well-documented struggles surrounding Kobe Bryant's return to action as he will have almost certainly broken Michael Jordan's scoring mark before tipping off against the Pacers.