Whether weighed by fatigue or a misguided sense of expectations from their one-sided beatdown at home, the Indiana Pacers fell flat in a Kobe Bryant-filled loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Three quarters of sloppy, unfocused basketball kept the door wide open for the Lakers to slowly inch their way back from a double digit deficit and come up with big shots from Bryant late as the Pacers successfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Pacers actually looked on point early; an 11-5 Lakers lead evaporated quickly as the Pacers scorched earth from the three point line, hitting four straight late in the first quarter as part of a 14-0 run that put Indiana on top 28-15. Indiana shot 6-8 from three point range in the quarter, including three from Miles as part of his 11 in the first. That would be the high water mark, however, as a pair of turnovers to end the quarter set up matters for the remainder of the night.
The Lakers would score the first six of the second quarter, as Indiana began to get sloppy with their passes and unfocused with their defense, sending the Lakers to the line with frustrating regularity. Nick Young made the most of the whistles, shooting seven free throws in the second quarter as part of his 12 second quarter points. Young ended the half on a high note, stealing a David West pass and drilling a buzzer beating three pointer to draw Los Angeles to within seven.
West struggled in a big way in the first half with turnovers, but helped Indiana with all 11 of his points in the third quarter. West had a team high five turnovers on the night, four of them coming off of bad passes. Despite all of this, the Pacers were still able to maintain their 13-point first quarter lead. It just happened that their inability to push it beyond 13 is what hurt them.
Indiana allowed the Lakers to hang around and a 7-1 Jeremy Lin run to end the third started to become the Pacers' undoing. The Lakers scored the first five of the fourth to cut the lead to one, eventually tying the game at 74-74. The turnovers and LA free throw trips didn't help Indiana, but neither did their offense, which has come to a grinding halt after their first quarter display.
The Pacers hit six of their first eight three pointers, then proceeded to miss their next 16. Despite having no success from beyond the arc, it didn't deter them until they finally got one to go to break the 74-all tie. A scuffle between Carlos Boozer and Roy Hibbert led to a Flagrant 1 on Boozer and technical on Hibbert, helped set up the Lakers at the line.
It didn't mater that a Young reverse layup was the last field goal the Lakers would score for over five minutes, not when they earned seven free throw trips, going 7-7 while Indiana's own field goal drought gave them only four free throw trips. After Donald Sloan put the Pacers up 82-79, it was Kobe's time to lift the Lakers on his back. Bryant hit a tough corner three to move the Lakers up 84-82 on five straight points.
Solomon Hill responded on the other end, but more free throws for Kobe and the Lakers put them back on top. Sloan moved Indiana ahead 87-86, but a pair of awful final possessions including a contested three from West and a bad heave by Hibbert allowed Bryant to walk away with the game winner as the Lakers edged the Pacers 88-87.
Indiana shot just 36.7% on the night, but nearly overcame it with 16 offensive boards, dominating second chance opportunities while holding Los Angeles to just 38% shooting. Even the turnovers, 16 on the night, didn't put Indiana so much in a hole in points off turnovers (losing 17-12) as it did take away opportunities for Indiana. But Indiana simply wasn't equipped to overcome their free throw discrepancy.
Not only were the Pacers outshot by 12 from the line (30-18), but were outscored by 15 (28-13), as Indiana's free throw woes continue to take away easy points from a team that can certainly use every opportunity they can to score points. Miles was Indiana's worst free throw offender, shooting 2-4, but he still led the Pacers on the night with 19 points thanks in large part to his big first quarter.
The strength of the bench came up short tonight, getting outscored 46-28. Luis Scola and Lavoy Allen rebounded well, but lacked much of an offensive punch and Chris Copeland was wildly out of control most of the night, scoring just two points and fumbling up with four fouls.
All five starters reached double figures, but the Pacers didn't get particularly high level play from their starters. Roy Hibbert had a 12 & 11 double double and Donald Sloan filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds as he continues to spell for the injured George Hill and C.J. Watson. Poor shooting nights from Rodney Stuckey and Solomon Hill (3-11 each) and the turnover prone play of David West took away from solid stretches.
For a Pacers team that has played better, seeing a loss like this crop up is disappointing. Though short handed in early season form, Indiana really didn't play smart enough to overcome their roster shortcomings. If the postseason is a goal, this is a bad loss. The Eastern Conference will continue to keep the 13-22 Pacers afloat, but their inconsistency doesn't show any long term signs of dissipating. A quick turnaround will have Indiana in Salt Lake City tomorrow night to face the Jazz, in hopes of a picking up a .500 road trip.