After trending in a positive direction for six weeks, the Indiana Pacers have gone directly into reverse in three days flat, falling in their second straight game, but in a not-all-dissimilar fashion as their loss Saturday night to Boston. The Pacers never led, which is of course the first problem in actually winning a basketball game, but more than that, the general lack of execution from an Indiana team that was a step slow on Saturday as well.
While the Pacers have well documented struggles against teams that pick up the tempo, as noted by season sweeps by Denver and Phoenix, that doesn't do much to console that general lack of execution. The Pacers were sloppy, and not in a turnover sense; the Pacers had only four turnovers the entire game. But there was a notable sloppiness in how they closed out on shooters, defended without fouling, came up with 50/50 balls, and finished plays around the rim that snowballed into a frustrating night, especially on the defensive end.
The Pacers allowed 47.6% to Toronto in their 117-98 loss, but worse than that, allowed the Raptors to shoot 12-23 from beyond the arc. Obviously, three point defense is a crap shoot on most nights, but it didn't appear Toronto was all that threatened by the way Indiana was defending the three point line, especially early in the third quarter when the Raptors hit three consecutive threes as the Pacers defense looked too worried they were going to foul rather than challenge the shooters beyond quick fakes.
However, fouling the shooter was an issue for the Pacers. The Raptors shot 33 free throw attempts on a night when the Pacers only committed 22 fouls. Indiana did a terrible job defending without fouling, just as they did a terrible job rebounding period. The Raptors outrebounded Indiana by 14 and dominated the 50/50 plays, not only in regards to loose balls, but especially in rebounding.
Three point shooting made up a bulk of the difference. Toronto's 12-23 shooting walloped Indiana's 2-19 performance, but while a direct 30 point advantage in three point shooting alone makes up the difference in the scoreboard, the total package of Indiana's performance suggested little that even with a closer three point difference that the Pacers had a real shot in this game.
Not only as a team effort with regards to defense or 50/50 plays, but the Pacers even when they had opportunities to possibly seize control of the game found ways to get in their own way by whiffing on layups off of steals on multiple occasions. Even individually there was much to be desired. George Hill was fantastic yet again to lead Indiana with 23 points on 9-15 shooting, but was light on rebounding (2) and assists (2) to go with five fouls.
Rodney Stuckey had 20, making his biggest impact late in the first quarter to help guide Indiana to within a point by scoring six of eight Indiana points. Roy Hibbert also carried Indiana offensively for a stretch in the fourth, scoring eight straight points for the Pacers as they fought to stay within 10 amidst a stretch where Toronto scored nine consecutive from the free throw line. Hibbert had 17 points and seven rebounds.
With the loss, Indiana not only falls to 30-36, but lost ground in the playoff race to everyone except the Charlotte Hornets. The Pacers still hold onto the 7th spot by virtue of a three team tiebreaker with Miami (8) and Boston (9), sitting just a half a game up on 10th place Charlotte. But a pair of road games against Central Division foes could set things in reverse even further, starting Friday night against a Chicago Bulls team that never forgets.