There’s not much else to say at this point after the Indiana Pacers dropped their fifth straight on the road with an embarrassing 90-76 loss to the surging, Kyrie Irvingless Cleveland Cavaliers. As a team the Pacers shot 37.2%, coughed up the ball 15 times, hit only 10 of 16 free throws and accumulated just 4 fast break points.
Paul George had 15, David West had 14 and Lance Stephenson had 11. No one in the starting five shot better than 50% from the field. It wasn’t pretty on the bench either.
The Pacers are now 52-22 for the season and just a single game ahead of the Miami Heat, who hold the same number of losses, for the top record in the Eastern Conference. With 9 games left in the Pacers’ season, holding onto that No. 1 seed, their goal since the start of the season, has all but slipped right out of their hands. At a time when every team is ramping up their play the Pacers are inexplicably heading in the opposite direction.
David West summed it up pretty well after the game.
“We’re losing games at an alarming rate to teams that are inferior to us. We can’t figure out a way to perform better. We’ve done what you do. We’ve had team meetings. We’ve had players-only meetings. We’ve had players and the coaches (meetings). We’re kind of looking for answers right now, and things don’t get any easier.”
And that’s probably the problem right there — the Pacers aren’t actually losing to teams that are inferior to them. Right now, all those teams are superior to the Pacers, and they need to start playing like underdogs with a chip on their shoulders again. They need to view all that winning they had at the start of the season as them overachieving and start working their way back up from the bottom. That’s the only way they can snap out of whatever funk they’re in, if you can even call it a funk.
Larry Bird hit the nail on the head a few weeks back in an interview when he said the Pacers weren’t “taking it” to their opponents and tend to wait and see before reacting. In their last two wins, against the Bulls and the Heat, the Pacers took it to them because they knew they had to. Against so-called “lesser” teams they’ve let the opponent take it to them, thinking they could just withstand the storm and overwhelm them later with their better talent.
Sigh. I look at the Pacers’ next opponent, the 17-win-streak San Antonio Spurs, and wonder how Greg Popovich does it. If only the Pacers, with all their talent, could play like the Spurs do.
I honestly think this is the make-or-break game for the Pacers’ season. They play (extra) poorly in the second night of back-to-backs and the Spurs will be looking for revenge after the Pacers handed them a 111-100 drubbing back in early December. The chips are down and the Pacers need to go all in. A competitive loss won’t be the end of the world, but a disheartening blowout at home, where they are still a league-best 33-4, will sap what little confidence this team has left.