A fourth quarter lead proved all for naught for the Indiana Pacers, who fell short late against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pacers did so many things right and still found an uncanny way to lose. Indiana throttled Atlanta in second chance points 21-0, waxed them on the glass with 19 offensive boards and a +21 rebounding advantage, and hit 13 three pointers on the night. But yet they came out in the loss column. Why?
While Indiana did the big things, there were so many little things they let get away from them. The shooting of the Hawks masked any issues they had, shooting 51% compared to Indiana's 42%. Indiana, per usual, failed to get the necessary stops, and Al Horford was tremendous in the second half. Horford had 15 of his 21 in the second half, pairing well with Paul Millsap's 24 after his own 16 point first half.
The Pacers on the other hand were on fire in the first quarter at 76.5% shooting, but the end of the third and beginning of the fourth was the nightmare stretch of the night, with the Pacers missing 12 straight shots over six and a half minutes of game action, watching a 71-65 lead turn into a 78-72 Hawks advantage. The Pacers managed to stem the tide enough to regain the lead to lead 86-84 with under five to go, but Atlanta again responded with a long run to put the game on ice.
Indiana's own lack of attention to detail was evident early when they turned the ball over on the first three possessions as part of 20 for the night. While they did well forcing turnovers on Atlanta (15) and limiting the damage of their own turnovers (winning points off turnovers 17-15), the 20 turnovers took away possessions that Indiana was forced to make up elsewhere. Atlanta had 10 steals to Indiana's six, giving the Hawks a 14-11 fast break advantage.
Rather than allow their insane rebounding advantage be the nail in the coffin, they needed every offensive board and second chance point to give them a chance to win. It was the first loss in Pacers franchise history where they had outrebounded a team by 20, and it's fitting it was this team, the team that continues to gift wins to opponents, that would claim that honor.
There was also a crucial free throw discrepancy against Indiana as well. While Atlanta racked up late attempts, they won the free throw battle 14-7 (less than the outcome of the game). Indiana's inability to get to the free throw line, whether by their own measures or a late game decision to let the teams play some incredibly physical basketball for this era was a big shortcoming in their ability to come away with a win.
Indiana's individual efforts were as mixed as the overall team play. Paul George was tremendous, scoring 31 points on 11-21 shooting with seven three pointers (including an absurd shot falling down late where he may have gotten a call on most nights), nine rebounds, and six assists. Myles Turner reached double figures after a big first quarter, but saw his minutes limited somewhat thanks to the play of Lavoy Allen.
Allen was a big part of Indiana's success throughout the night, posting a 14 point, 14 rebound double double, with an excellent pair of assists. C.J. Miles had 13 on 5-12 shooting with a pair of threes, but it was a rough night overall that was accented well. The same could be said of Monta Ellis, whose 11 points came from a trio of threes, but four turnovers did as much to hurt the Pacers. George Hill didn't fare much better with seven, though he did have eight assists.
Continuing to be without Ian Mahinmi and Rodney Stuckey, Indiana's margin for error becomes much thinner. Simply having their ability opens up opportunities for big nights from either to close out these types of games, but without them, the bad nights from Jordan Hill (1-5, three points, five turnovers), Solomon Hill (1-7 shooting!), Joe Young (0-2), and Glenn Robinson III (two points, -14 +/-) to become all that more damaging.
Despite all of this, Indiana should have still come away with tonight's win. But saying this for two months straight doesn't make it true. On the contrary, it eventually becomes a definition for a team and it's defined Indiana since their disgusting road lost to Utah on December 5th. Since then, Indiana had a 3-10 record in games decided by five points or less, and those aren't even counting all the games they've let get away late.
On a night the Pacers had every opportunity to pull within one game of the third place Hawks, they stumble and fall to 26-24, eighth place in the East, half game behind the Detroit Pistons team they'll host tomorrow night. Given Indiana's 2-7 record in back-to-back games with six straight losses, it's hard to expect tomorrow will be the night they'll come together for a season changing win, but that's why they play all 82.