The Indiana Pacers had déjà vu strike yet again, watching a seemingly secure late game lead diminish, resulting in another avoidable loss for a Pacers team that splits their second four-game road trip and continues to tread in an Eastern Conference they should be far more secure in. As seems to be commonplace for every loss the Pacers take on, Indiana led by eight with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Houston Rockets closed regulation with a 12-4 run to force overtime.
In OT, the Pacers jumped out to a 6-0 advantage, but once again watched their lead squander behind big time three point shots by Houston. The Rockets hit three consecutive threes, and the Indiana offensive attack of Monta Ellis drives, Monta Ellis drives, and Monta Ellis drives wasn't enough to keep Houston at bay. Quite possibly the most frustrating part of Indiana's latest gag job may rest squarely on their final possessions of the fourth and overtime.
Ellis had 11 points on the night, six of those coming in the fourth and overtime, but his greatest asset tonight was in his ball movement. Ellis had 13 assists on a night the Pacers were cruising offensively with 33 assists on 43 buckets. But despite Ellis looks going late, the final plays were all Ellis all of the time. At the end of regulation with a chance to win, the Pacers seemed more than content playing for the tie with Ellis dribbling down and taking a long jumper with no sense of rhythm.
Unsurprisingly it didn't go, sending the two teams into overtime, where Indiana is now 0-4. Ellis hit a couple of driving floaters in overtime, and a huge George Hill defensive stand on James Harden set up Indiana to tie or win with 17 seconds remaining in OT. Ellis got the ball and attacked the rim, a not-so-hot look failing to go and a lack of awareness on Indiana's part to foul allowing Trevor Ariza to get free under the basket for the game sealing dunk as time expired.
Indiana's isolation plays at the end of quarters hasn't been much of a bright spot for some time now, but time and time again, the Pacers get out of what has worked for them all night to force bad iso shots that rarely go. The Pacers' ball movement was pinpoint tonight. It helped erase an early nine-point deficit, giving them a second half lead the entire way, with the Pacers not trailing until 40 seconds remained in overtime.
Yet there's nothing interesting about what Indiana is doing late in quarters and late in games and more importantly, nothing successful they're doing either. Smothering defense and active ball movement got Indiana a 13-point fourth quarter lead, but costly turnovers and bad jumpers on ball stoppage plays has put them in the loss column time and time again.
The Pacers defense was fueled by the play of George Hill and Paul George. Hill given the unenviable task of covering Harden did a tremendous job, forcing five turnovers while George had seven steals on the night. Indiana had 12 steals, forcing 23 turnovers, and outscoring Houston 38-15 in points off turnovers. But the +7 advantage at the line and the five extra three pointers proved all the Rockets needed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Ian Mahinmi scored in double figures again, as did Rodney Stuckey off the bench. Spot minutes from Glenn Robinson III and Joe Young were positive, but the shooting of C.J. Miles was hardly much help, with Miles shooting 2-9 from deep. Miles was 0-2 in the corner, a spot Indiana had a decided advantage all night. The open looks from the corner were staggering, but Indiana converted on just 5-13 from that spot, with three coming from Hill in the first half.
And so once again the Pacers have to pick themselves up and dust themselves off from another embarrassing loss as they travel home to face the fading Phoenix Suns who have lost 12 of 14 and Eric Bledsoe for the season. The Pacers need to come out with all cylinders firing to ensure a blowout win, that or figuring out the magic number they need to ensure they won't blow it late, as they've shown they assuredly will if they give Phoenix a chance on Tuesday.