The Indiana Pacers continue to reinvent the wheel on losing, coming up yet another heartbreaker in a 98-96 loss to the Detroit Pistons. Indiana, who led by 10 halfway through the third quarter, had Mo Williams flashbacks when Brandon Jennings exploded, hitting four of his eight three pointers in the third quarter, guiding Detroit back with 19 third quarter points.
Jennings had 37 on the night, but was made a second fiddle in the fourth quarter. But he wasn't lack of support in the quarter as the Pistons used timely three pointers to keep Indiana down multiple possessions, making overcoming the deficit with Indiana's horrid offensive play that much taller of an order. But timely threes were all Detroit had going, as Indiana managed to claw back and take the lead with 90 seconds to go at 95-94.
But a foul on Jennings would give Detroit the lead back, on a night when Detroit was uncharacteristically on point from the line, shooting 21-24, outscoring Indiana by 11 at the line. When adding in a +7 advantage from three point range, it made every point a chore to overcome, and when David West split his next free throw trip, it would leave the game tied at 96-96.
Despite the three point shooting and foul shooting, Indiana did a largely fantastic job defensively against Detroit. The Pistons were 13-32 from three point range, but shot just 35% inside the three point arc. Indiana would come up with the stop to give them possession tied at 96, but with Roy Hibbert and Andre Drummond fighting in the post, Hibbert would bump Drummond, who flopped onto the floor, getting a favorable whistle from the officials who sent the ball back to Detroit with 23.9 seconds remaining.
Indiana forced the miss on the final possession, but not the putback by Drummond, who tipped in the game winner with 0.3 seconds, putting Indiana into the loss column for the third straight game at 98-96. The effort for the Pacers tonight was good enough, but the little things were too tall for Indiana to overcome. Despite woeful offensive sets, Indiana shot well at 44.9%, but the advantage at the three point line and the free throw line, coupled with allowing 15 offensive rebounds, did not set well for Indiana.
The Pacers continue to struggle closing games, but did well to get the ball in the hands of their best scorer tonight with the game tied. Roy Hibbert was 7-11 from the floor with a team high 14 points, but no amount of balanced scoring can overcome a great night by an individual player.
Solomon Hill did a great job keeping Jennings from building on his 33 points at the end of three quarters, holding him scoreless from the field, but getting lost on a couple of screens and a bang-bang foul late set up four game deciding points for Jennings at the line. Hill was one of six Pacers in double figures with 10 points, including two of Indiana's six threes, but was a part of Indiana's troubling night from the line. That is, troubling in the sense of not getting to the line.
Indiana shot well, but wound up just 10-12 on the night, led by Rodney Stuckey who was 3-3. David West miss late was tough, though likely wouldn't have come up had the game played out the same. West hit a pair of big jumpers late to put Indiana in position to win, however, scoring 13 points on the night.
The Pacers bench played above the starters, led by a career night from Damjan Rudez, who scored 13 points as well, hitting three threes. Ian Mahinmi inched towards a double double with 12 points and nine rebounds (five offensive), playing exceptionally well as a rim protector. Donald Sloan punched in some big buckets on his own with 11 points.
With Paul George dunking in practice, it's hard not to get caught up in looking forward, especially as George is the biggest thing Indiana has lacked through a majority of this season: someone who can play the role of closer. Indiana falls to 7-17 in games decided by single digits, and on a year where Indiana is 15-26, simply having someone reliable can swing a lot in Indiana's favor.
Of course, the reality of the situation is that Indiana is 15-26. Injuries or not, this is where Indiana is and it's only good enough for 11th place in the Eastern Conference, a faint glimmer of playoff dreams staying alive because of the equally woeful play of Miami and Brooklyn far more than the play of the Pacers, sitting only two and a half games out.
As for the flop, it was unfortunate the officials bit on it, and while Drummond should see a fine (or at least a warning) coming his direction, it'll be worth every cent for a team that is in search of make-up wins in the same way Indiana is. Sportsmanship is an important lesson to teach, but it's nearly impossible to thrive without a nose for gamesmanship, and it was gamesmanship that helped shift the outcome of tonight's game. The players and coaches can take their shots, but the worst thing you can do is set yourself up to be in a game decided by officials, as Indiana was tonight.
Win, lose, or unprecedented draw, the Pacers will take the road for five straight games (which in and of itself is concerning), starting with 9th place Charlotte Hornets tomorrow night, who like Detroit, have found life in their season after a woeful start. Indiana is just 7-15 on the road, and with games against Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Orlando on the bill, nothing seems easy for a team that's far away from any kind of answer at the halfway point of a forgettable 2014-15 season.