Post-Game Grades: Pacers Decline Several Chances to Beat the Bobcats, Instead Lose
One of my favorite shows is Curb Your Enthusiasm and one of my favorite lines comes as Larry David (the show’s main character and also the co-creator of Seinfeld) is taking with his manager/best friend, Jeff Green, about his career. Awash in Seinfeld millions, Larry hasn’t been working much. Jeff obviously feels Larry should be doing something, both because of his own financial motivations and just because he is watching his friend wander the earth aimlessly, doing nothing but become an even worse version of himself every day.
“What have you been up to,” asks Jeff.
“Nothing,” says Larry.
“You got any ideas? Got anything coming down the pike?”
“I’ve got ides,” says Larry. “But I chose not to carry them out.”
That was how the end of this game felt. One team, a little full of itself and expecting to be able to get a bucket whenever it wants, really not accomplishing anything. Sure, compared to the lowly Bobcats, the Pacers have some laurels to rest on. And they should be able to execute some offensive sets, should they chose to carry them out, but if you spend the better part of 20 minutes just rudderlessly floundering around out there expecting to turn it on when you need to, odds are it might not turn out how you expect.
The Pacers did not play well all night. But in the first half, they at least converted enough, often against a surprisingly active Bobcats zone and light press, that the talent disparity between the two rosters keep them in the lead. Mostly, Indiana looked entirely unprepared for Charlotte’s defensive strategy. And this was, to a degree, acceptable for a few reasons. Since it was the Bobcats’ first game of the year, there was a bit of a sneak onside’s kick aspect to it. Moreover, George Hill missed all of preseason so he hasn’t had many reps of late and I doubt Indiana has spent many of those reps he has had on zone offense. Similarly, DJ Augustin just got to the team and has never seldom played with any of his new team members, let alone tried to break a zone in the regular season with them.
So it was not a major team character flaw that the Pacers were surprised, and knocked back on their heels a little at the outset. (They shot 5-for-16 and scored just 20 points in the first 12 minutes.) You would hope that these guys are professional players instructed by professional coaches, so they should be able to figure it out, at worst, during a halftime talk. But to Charlotte’s credit, they were playing some fine defense. It wasn’t just a gimmick threat thrown out there to mix up the looks the offense saw: they committed to the zone and had clearly worked on it. They were not passively standing in spots and checking whoever happened to wander into their area. They were aggressively denying swing passes and swarming on drivers, then quickly rotating and re-matching up as ball-handlers passed off to the open man. And Indiana played right into their hands. They were slow and indecisive with the ball and spent more energy on meaningless advances that did little more than waste time on the shot clock. As the time ticked down, they often seemed to — collectively — clench up and, rather than taking individual responsibility to create a good scoring chance, play hot potato or, worse, just hold the ball as their teammates just stood still watching them hold the ball.
That type of offense was about as effective as it sounds like it would be. And even when they were finding the seams or getting the ball out in transition, they were blowing chances. They missed layups, they mishandled the ball and they just generally looked out of sync. They looked like they were spending more mental energy wondering why their teammates weren’t making anything happen rather than trying to individually do anything to reverse the course of a game that was continuing to unravel.
Then, in the third quarter, the Kemba Walker show began. He carved Indiana up like this was the Big East Tournament, dropping 12 points in the third and ending up with 19 in the second half. For the game, he scored 30 points on 21 shots, leading a perimeter attack that dominated (Gerald Henderson added 18, Ben Gordon had 10 and Ramon Sessions dropped 11).
Despite all this, Indiana had several shots to win late, and with 10 seconds left, they literally had one final shot to win. This is game two and they play again tomorrow, so let’s not belabor all the failed possessions. But the short version begins like this: the Bobcats scored their final point with 3:28 left in the game and the Pacers cut the lead to just 1 point with exactly 2:00 to go. Then, in five more possession, the Pacers couldn’t manage to score one more point. Against the Bobcats. Worst of all, they turned the ball over on three of these five possessions. Give them credit for variety: David West stepped out of bounds, Paul George telegraphed a charge in transition and the whole team pitched in for a shot-clock violation. The other two chances? A nice (if slow and a little indecisive) play that got George the ball on the baseline after a Roy Hibbert handoff … but he couldn’t finish at the rim. And a decent look at a three from former Bobcat DJ Augustin as the buzzer sounded.
None of them worked.
Indiana never figured out to be effective against the Bobcats defense. Then they got smacked around by a hot scorer. And when it came time to win, and they had a bunch of talented players available to execute some good plays, they chose not to carry them out.
|David West - 34 MIN | 7-17 FG | 6 REB | 2 AST | 14 PTS
The percentage looks weak, but he missed several gimmes from inside four feet, and 7 shots total in the paint. Sometimes the ball doesn’t just go down. And while he played pretty well overall, he should be rebounding more when the opponent misses 54 shots.
|Paul George - 36 MIN | 4-11 FG | 7 REB | 6 AST | 5 TO | 12 PTS
He is over-thinking things. Not as much as Gerald Green, who we’ll get to, but his insistence on trying to assert himself is clearly leaving him a little confused at times as you can almost see the gears turning when he should just be reacting using instincts he’s learned over 20-plus years. If I was a pitching coach, I’d tell him to stop aiming and start throwing.
|Roy Hibbert - 24 MIN | 3-4 FG | 7 REB | 1 AST | 7 PTS
The zone Charlotte used to flummox the Pacers kept Roy from having much room to operate and the perimeter guys didn’t do a great job getting him the ball in places to do anything. On the other hand, he didn’t get to useful places and held, held, held the ball on the catch are rarely became a weapon. Also in foul trouble.
|George Hill - 34 MIN | 3-9 FG | 1-1 FT | 4 REB | 1 AST | 8 PTS
Let’s chalk this up to a guy still recovering from injury and a guy who didn’t get any preseason reps — let alone spend any time recently thinking about attacking a zone. He simply let the offense flounder, rudderless for far too long as the Bobcats held their spots and dictated the game on defense. The PG of a good team can’t let opponent determine how the offense gets run.
|Gerald Green - 32 MIN | 3-12 FG | 0-4 FT | 4 REB | 7 PTS
Yikes. And double yikes. If Paul George is inside his own head too much then Gerald has a guy inside his head talking to him and he is then inside that guy’s head. It’s a whole Russian nesting doll thing. Still, he did manage to find some open space at times and got a few dunks. Also just missed some shots. That happens. The other stuff though? Yikes.
|Tyler Hansbrough - 17 MIN | 4-9 FG | 7-8 FT | 6 REB | 15 PTS
The bench was really the lone bright spot in this game and Tyler was vintage HandsBro. He forced some stuff, but he was mucking it up with every loose ball and just daring defenders to foul him. He played with blinders when he had the ball, per usual, but a night like this shows how little that matters when he’s getting the ball up on the rim and getting to the line. He was 7-for-8 from the line while all his teammates combined hit just 8-for-18.
|Sam Young - 0 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1-2 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 1 PTS
He was right there in the mix during his, what, one play on the court. Left the game after Jerk Store all-time bestseller Gerald Henderson came down with a hard foul on, I believe, his shoulder.
|Ian Mahinmi - 22 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-4 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 7 PTS
Looked better tonight that in the opener and had one monster block after an even better helpside rotation. Still seems to have some timing/hands issues, which may be permanent, but seems to be working out the kinks and starting to find his way. Presume we’ll be able to better evaluate once he gets closer to being the best version of himself in another two weeks. Hit his free throws.
|D.J. Augustin - 17 MIN | 1-7 FG | 0-0 FT | 4 REB | 5 AST | 3 PTS
No exactly Kaiser Soze coming back with a vengeance while facing his team but had some better moments mixed in with all the misses. I don’t have any specific examples, so that doesn’t bode well, but I recall them happening.
|Lance Stephenson - 25 MIN | 6-9 FG | 6 REB | 4 AST | 3 TO | 15 PTS
Best game as a Pacer? At one point, I said on Twitter that he was “playing really well” … and he proceeded to make two of the worst passes I’ve ever seen him throw. But he turned it right back around and got back to producing, hitting shots, getting in the open court and just generally making good decisions of the ball. This was all the more impressive considering there are few players whose skill set should be more contained by a zone than Lance.