I let myself digest last night's loss to Washington before finishing this piece and it's probably for the better. Even the most casual Pacers fans know the frustrations of the last month and a half. 5-9 since December 19th is a long way off from the conference contending pace they set back in early November. The most nauseating part? Four of those losses came by less than five points. It's been no secret that the Pacers have lacked a true closing threat and have had trouble putting teams away. Take the January 10th loss at Houston as the prime example. The Pacers lead the entire second half all the way until the last 17 seconds of regulation. The Rockets Trevor Ariza was able to tie it up on a three pointer, followed by a last second of a possession from Monta Ellis. Houston would take the game in overtime and if you were watching, you could see it coming.
The answer is not quite as simple as we would hope, but there is enough talent within the team's stars to start pulling out victories. Where do you start?
Paul George: (24 ppg 7.5 rpg)
The Pacers offense runs through their main man Paul George as it rightfully should, yet we see quite a bit of Monta Ellis at the end of games. After looking like an early MVP candidate not named Curry, PG has seemed to regress closer to the mean. Before anyone throws me to the sharks consider this: in the first twenty games Paul George had 14 games of at least 25 points (up to and including the Golden State matchup on December 8th). Since then he has only achieved the same mark four times in the last twenty games. When it comes to closing games, he has not had any success putting a team away. Granted, the blown calls in both Chicago games can be argued but there were still many other opportunities for him to be the hero. Look at the next level of stars: the Lebrons, the Durants and the Hardens can each take over the final 5 minutes of a game. Bottom line, if he wants to be treated like the superstar he can be he needs to start taking over games himself.
Monta Ellis: (13.3 ppg)
I personally am a big fan of what Monta brings to the table as a ballhandler. Ellis's scoring has decreased, but I believe he is much more valuable to the team than what a box score shows. That being said, there needs to be some work on his last possessions. Vogel has shown that he prefers using Ellis as the last man standing and I agree with the decision to an extent. Ellis has the most experience and the best ballhandler the Pacers have on their roster. He is the man I want to start the play with. Where Ellis runs into trouble is when he is too predictable, as seen in the Houston matchup here. Watching that highlight, I can't help but think there was more to be done. Ellis has to realize that he has four other capable players on the court with him. If he can't find his shot he needs to do what he has done best all year: create it for someone else. This needs to be a collaborative effort between Ellis and Vogel to find Ellis's swagger for the last possession.
CJ Miles: (13.4 ppg)
When Paul George jokingly called the duo with Miles "The Eastern Splash Bros" he was onto something. Affectionately known on his good nights as "3J Miles", he has brought an expected element to what could be a dynamic offensive attack. Miles currently sits tied for fifth place in the NBA in three pointers made this season. Whenever it's crunch time, I can't remember the last time I saw the ball go his way. Miles has been extremely flexible with his role so far this season switching between starter and coming off the bench. I'm not saying he should be the go to man in the clutch, but I think we should give the hot hand his dues every now and then.
The Pacers schedule does not look any easier on the horizon. As they sit at 22-18, they have a west coast trip including Denver, Phoenix, Golden State and Sacremento. They finally return home to welcome the Clippers, Atlanta and Denver once again. A closer for this team is needed now more than ever or it could be a long three weeks.