Escaping the Schedule Loss
Over the course of a grueling 82-game season, a home game against expected bottom-dweller Philadelphia may not seem all that meaningful. And yet, games like Saturday night’s ugly Pacers’ victory can serve as a distinguisher of sorts. Namely, good teams find ways to win the games that everyone else chalks up as “schedule losses.”
A quick look at the box score from Saturday night’s victory might reveal some troubling trends.
The 19 turnovers were awful, with many of them being of the “lazy/lackadaisical” variety. Michael Carter-Williams worked George Hill like a speed bag for much of the night — both offensively and defensively. Perhaps most disgraceful was the staggering 23 offensive rebounds that the comparatively undersized 76ers pulled down (Lavoy Allen pulled down 6 in only 26 minutes of action, and every single Philly player that got playing time pulled at least one down.).
Digging deeper, several players seemed to wander away from some of the important traits that have characterized them for much of this season.
Paul George, for one, was caught playing hero ball on numerous occasions in the third and fourth quarter. When the game plan was seemingly obvious (Philadelphia couldn’t do anything to even bother Roy Hibbert on the low block), George kept settling for off-balance, contested jump shots. He didn’t get to the rim one time in the second half and several times missed easy entry passes to Scola and Hibbert that certainly would have led to easy buckets. Even stranger was the fact he seemed to turn his defense on and off. While he baited Evan Turner into several offensive fouls and finished the game with three steals, he also allowed a guy with absolutely no jump shot to finish the game with 21 points.
The early season MVP candidate would be the first to tell you that tonight was not one of his better performances.
Hill also struggled for much of the night. At times, he seemed downright befuddled by the young Michael Carter-Williams (who, by the way, is phenomenal. He is just one more reason why it’s so hard for me to get into college basketball — how a supposedly great coach like Jim Boeheim could so completely underutilize him is just beyond me). MCW got to the rim with ease, shooting 7-of-8 in the lane. He also forced Hill into three turnovers, accumulating seven steals in the process. At one point in the third quarter, the Pacers worked the ball beautifully to give Hill a wide-open look from the right wing. Hill, who had missed his previous two jumpers, passed up the shot and was called for a traveling violation, much to the chagrin of Mr. David West.
But alas, eight minutes of inspired play on both ends of the floor was enough to counter the 40 minutes of tired, entitled basketball that they had played to that point. When the Pacers needed to make a run, they did. Everywhere you looked, Pacers made big plays when it mattered.
There was Paul George, knocking down an important 3-pointer in the corner to break the tie. Shortly after, he fed West on back-to-back occasions and Indiana’s power forawrd was able to abuse the overmatched Evan Turner in his torture chamber.
After Carter-Williams sized Hill up and took him to the rack late in the game to cut into the Pacers’ lead, Hill went right back at him, converting a beautiful right handed layup in traffic to put the young buck in his place.
And all along, there was the ever-present Roy Hibbert, stifling the 76ers and thwarting their drives at every turn.
As Indianapolis Star beat writer Candace Buckner noted, playing all five starters for 30+ minutes against the 76ers is not a good strategy to survive the regular season.
But this is a game that the Pacers undoubtedly would have lost in years past. And sometimes, you just gotta take what you can get.
12-1. This is cool.