By now you should know that the Indiana Pacers gave up a massive 21 point lead againt the Utah Jazz before finally waking up and earning a tougher-than-it-should’ve-been 104-99 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Pacers had a few guys that player well (Collison in particular, Hibbert, and Granger when it mattered), but what must be worrying is the team’s continued inability to close out games that they appear to have in hand. Remember last year when the Pacers held those big leads against the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs, only to lose 3 of those 4 games? I had initially chalked that down to the greatness of Derrick Rose and that Bulls team, but the continuing trend this season is a concern.
The one that most will remember is that debacle in Sacramento, when the Pacers simply melted away and allowed the Kings to steal certain victory from the Pacers’ grasps, but there have been numerous games where the Pacers have given up big leads. Sure, they won a lot of those games by digging deep in crunch time, but what it does illustrate is the team’s lack of killer instinct. To be honest, many of those wins came from luck or from the other team imploding at the last minute.
The argument that the Pacers don’t have a legitimate go-to-guy or superstar is not as salient these days, considering committee teams such as Philadelphia and Denver are getting it done with arguably less talent. It’s human nature to ease up when ahead, but the Pacers often appear to fall asleep when they have a big lead, playing lots of one-on-one, throwing up tough jumpers early into the shot clock, making lazy passes, not boxing out and not getting back on defense. It was more understandable last year and the year before, considering how young the core of this team is, but if the Pacers want to become serious contenders, they need to close games out.
Point differentials are the sign of a quality team. Looking at the standings now, the Pacers are 17-7, just half a game behind Philly (18-7), but
their point differential stands at just +3.4, way behind the league leading 76ers who are at a full +10. For contending teams like the Heat (+8.0) and the Bulls (+9.2) with their superstars, it’s understandable — you rarely see them (especially the Bulls) give up big leads against inferior teams. But a team like Philly, which has the similar multi-weapon model as the Pacers, the contrast is startling.
Not to be a party pooper beacuse the Pacers ought to be very proud of their record thus far (and especially the calibre of opponents they have beaten), but if they want to win one or possibly two series in the playoffs, they need to start developing that killer instinct they sorely miss right now.