So, well, last night pretty well confirmed all my fears about the Pacers. Not to say they can’t turn it around, but Good Lord, that was awful. The defense didn’t look bad. They only gave up 89 points, which would win them most games. But only scoring 77? That’s flat terrible. And does not pair up nicely with a 71 point effort against Memphis.* It’s worse than just poor shooting. Which certainly happened, don’t get me wrong. The Pacers shot 37% last night, well below the league average** of 50%. But, even more hurtful than that is the truly poor basketball IQ.
*Where, again, they only gave up 82. I know this is a defensive minded team, but nobody can afford to be this one dimensional.
**The Pacers generally shoot right around average, at 49.2%, if you’re curious. It should also be pointed out that, last season, many stat heads would say if the Pacers could just struggle up to league average offense, their defense was more than good enough to make them one of (if not the) top teams in the league. And, well, here we are. Right at league average, and the Pacers are 51-20 and still clinging to the top spot in the East. Just to put my fears in perspective. I’m not necessarily happy, but I fully understand this is still a very, very good team.
Maybe you don’t want to hear that from me. That’s fine. I stopped playing basketball after eighth grade and resigned to being a lowly manager through high school. I’m certainly no basketball savant. But I am from Indiana. I’ve watched basketball since practically the womb, as most from this state have.* I’ve spent countless hours playing in driveways and parks and the like. I’ve been a good student of the game and the great basketball people I have had the good fortune to be around.** I think I know basketball pretty well, but I would certainly hope an NBA player knows the game better than I do and would generally make better decisions than I would. But, after watching last night, I am not so sure.
*This is true for baseball, too, but as I’ve written here, that’s more of a family trait than a geographical one.
**If you’d like to skip this aside, please, by all means. But I just wanted to put a little shout out here for the people who have personally helped expand my understanding of the game: obviously my parents first and foremost. Various uncles were also helpful, but a special mention would go to my cousin John, who is probably the most successful basketball player in the family. He played on probably the best Covington teams I ever watched, and I was part of the Final Four team as a manager. I have my picture on the wall in the gym and everything. He probably should have played basketball somewhere in college, but was robbed of the chance by a truly unfortunate knee injury his senior year. I probably should thank my middle school coaches, but the small town nature of the Covington basketball program meant I didn’t necessarily get the necessary time from most of my coaches to develop properly. Not that I blame them, but it’s the truth. I would give credit to Mike Gasaway, though. He coached me in eighth grade and then got the high school coaching job my freshman year. I definitely got to see his practices up close and personal. I understand he is an AD now rather than coaching, and I think that’s a shame. Given the right opportunity, I really think he could have made some serious noise as a coach. And, although I didn’t spend nearly as much time around him, I would also single out Mac Petty, the long time Wabash coach. One hour (maybe two, I don’t remember for sure) interviewing him on my short-lived sports talk radio show was one of the most enlightening things I ever did as far as plumbing the depths of his knowledge not only on the history of Wabash basketball (at least where he was involved), but on his opinions on how the game has changed since he started coaching and why he felt that way. Remember, he came to Wabash in 1976, won a national championship in 1982. That game is on YouTube. This was pre-shot clock, pre-three point, pre-alternating possession. Watching that game is a striking reminder of how different a game basketball used to be. If you just dropped in from outer space, you might not think it is the same game. Here, as a bit of a reward for getting through my little Oscar speech, here is that game.
How else would you explain the baffling decisions made on fast breaks? The one where Paul George feebly flipped the ball at the rim was especially bad, and kind of summed up all the problems the Pacers’ budding superstar has right now in a nutshell. Instead of using the athletic gifts God gave him to just go at the rim and dunk the damn ball, he was so concerned about Kirk Hinrich and drawing the foul that the whole thing looked awkward and pathetic. And all PG can do is stand there and beg for a call. Really, dude? I don’t care if he pulled out a sledgehammer and played some Tonya Harding defense. You will not get that call if you go so timidly at the rim on a fast break. At any level. This is not the first time PG has gone all prima donna on us and whined that he doesn’t get calls other superstars do. I’m tired of it. Sick and fucking tired of it. Should he get more calls? Maybe. Should he worry about it? Not for one single moment. Just play the game and let the officials make the calls. Would PG have been guaranteed points if he had just gone at the rim? Maybe not. Maybe Hinrich makes the block somehow, maybe you somehow miss. But I doubt it. It sure seems to me if PG had been the first moticum aggressive, he would have essentially guaranteed at least two points out of the play with a good chance at a free throw after. Instead, well, we got the train wreck we saw.
That was but one botched fast break. There were others. There were also many questionable, quick shots and questionable, head-scratching passes. There was a lack of blocking out. And this has been more of a trend, as pointed out yesterday. You are going to have off-nights in the NBA. It’s 82-plus games. Nobody can keep their focus that sharp for that long. But when it keeps happening? That’s data. And that’s scary.
I don’t know what the problem is. Have the midseason moves totally messed up the chemistry? Has the injury to CJ Watson ruined the bench, which puts too much pressure on the starters? Are they just bored? I don’t know the answer to that one, but I do know that Miami is coming to town tomorrow, and they know they are within striking distance of that top spot. Whatever the problem is, it better get fixed quick. This team is too often looking like a team that believes their own hype and thinks their reputation will get them through games. Frankly, it doesn’t work like that. I truly believed this was a team that would not fall victim to this given what has happened to them the last two seasons in the playoffs. But, here we are.
The only upside is there is still time to fix it. And no time like the present with your arch-rival coming into your building. As a team, you have publicly stated that the best chance to finally get over that hump is getting home court advantage and making Miami win in the Fieldhouse. If you want all of that to come true, it is truly time to put up or shut up.
Isn’t scheduling funny sometimes?