AP file photo
For the fifth time in the last six games, the Indiana Pacers struggled against teams that pushed the pace on them.
Winning has been a common occurrence for the team who entered Thursday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns with the league’s best record, but the Pacers are in unchartered territory for the first time this season as they’ve dropped three in this recent stretch (which could very well have been five), with the win over the hobbling Los Angeles Lakers as their lone convincing victory.
The Suns swept the season series against the Pacers with a repeat win of their 124-100 home stand last week, this time rushing to a 19-point halftime lead to hold on to a 102-94 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – only the second home loss of the season for the Pacers.
Highlight: Suns vs Pacers
Gerald Green and Goran Dragic combined for 44 points as the Suns win big at home defeating the Pacers 124-100.
As they did in their five-game road trip, the Pacers faced yet another team that tried to run on them and shoot a lot of threes. This time around, however, the Pacers didn’t have “fatigue” or “being on the road” as fallbacks for their lackluster response. They were simply beaten.
So what happened to the mighty Pacers?
It started last week in the fourth quarter in Oakland when Steph Curry and the Warriors pushed the pace in a late comeback effort that fell short. The Pacers managed to hold on to the road win, thanks in large to big shots down the stretch from Paul George and Lance Stephenson, but revealed a weakness in their transition defense.
Curry pushed the ball each time he had the opportunity late in the game, while David Lee and Andrew Bogut ran the break and forced the Pacers’ slower frontcourt comprised of Roy Hibbert, David West and Luis Scola to give chase.
Two days later, the Pacers faced another team that loved to run in the Suns and were overwhelmed in the opening half and never quite got back in the game as they struggled against Goran Dragic and Gerald Green dust all game long. Equally impressive was the Suns’ toughness and perimeter defense behind the efforts of PJ Tucker and the Morris twins.
Highlights: Pacers vs. Kings
Paul George scores 36 points with Lance Stephenson adding 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to help the Pacers over the Kings in overtime 116-111.
This time around it was Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton who combined for 80 points against the league’s best defense and did it by getting quick shots and pushing the ball up each time they had an opportunity to do so.
The Pacers fell behind early again and were on their way to dropping their second consecutive game if not for George’s miraculous four-point play in the last 15 seconds that forced the game into overtime.
After the overtime win over the Kings, the Pacers travelled to Denver to play the second game of a back-to-back and was simply dusted from the get-go. Fatigue definitely played a factor here, but the Nuggets surely didn’t help things by running the ball on the Pacers’ tired legs yet again.
Obviously the trend speaks for itself. The Pacers may have guys like George and Stephenson who can push the pace on offense, but for the most part, they are a grind-it-out half court team. And on nights when they face fast, athletic and excellent perimeter-defending teams, they struggle with turnovers and point guard play, which allows opponents to run against them.
With the Pacers insisting on having George Hill as their point (a position Hill himself admits he isn’t comfortable with and that he will never be a natural point guard), George and Stephenson are tasked more to create their own shots and opportunities for others, which leads to many difficulties as shown in games against the likes of the Miami Heat, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and recently the Suns.
And when Hill struggles guarding opposing point guards as well like Dragic against the Suns or the likes of Russell Westbrook when they played the Thunder, or even Mario Chalmers of the Heat and Thomas of the Kings, one has to wonder how much of a disadvantage it puts on the Pacers as a whole.
In most instances, George has had to switch on these scoring point guards as he did against Thomas in Sacramento and Dragic against the Suns. Now you have your main scoring threat not only tasked to create his own shots, but also defend and stop the opposing team’s top scorer. And when George has to deal with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, it just puts too much load on the 23-year-old’s shoulders.
Incidentally, George struggled against the Suns on Thursday as well (5-17 from the field) and finished with only 12 points. Now am I putting all the blame on Hill? Hardly. Hill actually had a decent offensive night with 17 points. As far as being a distributor and facilitator on offense, however, my argument stands with Hill failing to tally a single assist all night long.
The Pacers’ coaching staff will definitely need to figure something out if they insist on having Hill as their primary point guard. I have maintained all season long, and despite the Pacers’ successes, that I find it hard to believe that they will accomplish their goal of winning their first ever title this season with their “hometown hero” Hill as their starting point guard.
Remember all those turnovers against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last year?
The only way they do so is if all their weapons click and if George puts forth a fantastic performance each time. With that said, that may be asking for too much. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Stephenson responded to his All-Star snub with his fourth triple-double of the season (leads the league) tallying 14 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Despite making the list of many NBA writers, Stephenson didn’t quite make the cut for the Eastern Conference coaches, who went with Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson instead.
Follow Dennis on Twitter @dRealSource.