Despite the repeated emphasis of coach Frank Vogel before the game, the Indiana Pacers don't have their swagger back. At least not yet. The Knicks have struggled all year but came into the game at Madison Square Garden on a 6-game winning streak. The Pacers had won 4-straight but they were all hard-fought battles against cellar dwellers. But with an added emotional boost from new team president Phil Jackson, the Knicks played with an extra edge tonight, and it showed as they raced out to a lead in the first quarter and held on 92-86.
It was one of those nights where things just didn't go right for the Pacers when they needed to make plays the most. They would make a run, but then the Knicks would make a crazy basket to extend the lead. On one play, the Knicks were about to commit a shot clock violation but the loose ball ended up in the hands of Raymond Felton, who banked in a turnaround three at the buzzer. With the Pacers down by 6 with about a minute to go, Lance Stephenson ended up throwing the ball away on a fast break when George Hill was ready in the corner for a big wide open three-pointer.
The Pacers missed free throws, lost out on the 50-50 balls and the 50-50 calls. Paul George, who had been playing with confidence as of late, was ugly tonight, shooting just 4-17 en route to 17 points and 8 rebounds and spent most of the game frustrated by foul trouble. David West made a lot of uncharacteristic misses and the bench just couldn't get it done — again. It was just one of those nights.
With 14 games to go in the season, the Pacers have to be concerned. It's time to get the swagger back or face the very real possibility of being upset in the first couple of rounds of the playoffs. It's been about Miami all year but right now it's questionable whether they can beat a team like Toronto or Brooklyn in the second round. The only positive thing to come out of tonight, apart from a mini offensive resurgence from Roy Hibbert (20 points on 8-10 shooting), is that Miami lost to Boston without Lebron James (back spasms), allowing the Pacers to hold on to their 3-game lead in the East.
It doesn't get easier for the Pacers from here as they'll next play Chicago, followed by Memphis, then Chicago again. Then it's the big one against Miami at home on March 26. The Pacers will likely have to win at least one of the two remaining games against the Heat (one more on April 11) to hold on to the top seed. And to do so they'll have to get their swagger back. Fast.