One rough over a bad Eastern conference team made the Indiana Pacers feel like their slump is over. Then came another bad offensive display while the Toronto Raptors got in their way and once again exposed the problems that are holding back the would-be NBA champions, beating them 102-94.
Inconsistency might be a good word to describe what’s happening right now for the Pacers. Paul George led them with 26 points, and David West finished with 21. Those are the two rocks for Indiana. Even when George isn’t having the best of shooting days, he’s still better than the nothing we sometimes see from George Hill and Lance Stephenson, who seems to never be focused enough to have two dominant games in a row.
The Raptors are handling the whole Kyle Lowry injury well. Greivis Vasquez is an inferior defender but he runs the floor well and is a good passer. Terrence Ross played very well, finishing with 24 points, while Jonas Valanciunas scored 22 points and DeMar Derozan added 20. The infamous and notorious defense from the Pacers didn’t work that well, and not for the first time. Roy Hibbert just isn’t the same guy who was impossible to score against earlier this season, or maybe simply players learned that attacking him isn’t such a bad idea.
The bench, as always, was a great source of disappointment for the Pacers. Danny Granger is injured and is off on the West Coast. He didn’t do that well in the minutes given to him before leaving the team. But Even Turner, putting up close to star numbers when playing in Philadelphia, is looking more and more like a bust signing for the Pacers, getting only 2 points from him on 1-of-8 from the field, while Luis Scola added 6 points. The Pacers’ best scorer off the bench? Donald Sloan with nine points.
The Raptors have now won five out of their last six, holding a slight edge over the Chicago Bulls in the race to finish third in the conference. They won’t catch up with the Pacers or Heat, but they showed once more that Indiana, a team that has lost only five times at home all season, is a very different, tamer, beast when playing on the road, falling to 19-19. Would-be NBA champions usually show a bit more in tougher atmospheres than what we’ve been seeing from the Pacers in the second half of the season.
One loss in Toronto is understandable, but there’s a big picture to consider. While Paul George might be putting his off-court problems behind him and playing like an All-Star again, that can’t be said for some other teammates he has. Hibbert struggling keeping players off the boards and away from the rim, George Hill turning into a more and more passive point guard which is bad news, Stephenson being himself which the Pacers need him to change out of and a bench that’s continuously disappointing.
The Pacers seem incapable at the moment of building streak that will put them on top of the East again, but that can change. The home court advantage seems crucial to both them and the Miami Heat, and the 19-19 away record suggests that another conference finals in which the Pacers don’t host game 7 will mean another disappointing ending to the season.