After Pacers lose 3 of 4, Paul George says they have ‘no toughness’

Coming off a successful road trip where the Indiana Pacers won two of three, including a victory in Oklahoma City, the opportunity was there for them to keep it going with three straight games at home.

Instead of piling on and moving up in the standings, they concluded the three-game homestead on a sour note. A red-hot Portland Trail Blazers came into Bankers Life Fieldhouse Sunday winners in 12 of their last 14 games. And, on the second night of a back-to-back, they easily executed their offense without much resistance from the Pacers (31-28). They won 111-102 and the wasn’t really that close.

The Trail Blazers (32-28) scored 39 first-quarter points and Damian Lillard accounted for 20 of them.

So now, a week after earning back-to-back road wins, the Pacers have dropped three of four and the locker room is missing one essential characteristic.

“We don’t have no toughness,” said leader Paul George, who scored 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. “There’s no toughness. If you look at playoff teams and teams one through eight, that’s one thing that every team has in common. That’s what we got to find.”

Paul George and the Pacers looking for toughness. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Paul George and the Pacers looking for toughness. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

That guy was David West in previous seasons, and he was over being the only one. He gave up millions to join the grown ups down in San Antonio and to contend for a championship.

The obvious follow-up to George’s comment is how … how does a team 59 games into an 82-game schedule gain toughness?

“You build habits towards it,” he answered. “I don’t know where to find it right now, we got to look within one another. Each guy has to pull it out of the next person. We’re all in it together. The teams I’ve been on, that’s what we pride ourselves on – is making a stand individually and everyone else being accountable.”

Over the last three games, the Pacers have been outscored by 84 points from the 3-point line. Those three opponents each hit at least 11 and combined for 38 to the Pacers’ … ten. Only ten.

“We’re struggling against spread teams tremendously,” George said. “We’ve been beat every single time the same way. We let a team that we know is hot get hot from the 3-point line. They spread us out and they do what they want with us.

“It’s a little bit of everything. … I think individual accountability. We’re just not taking the fight to teams. We’re not making them uncomfortable, which is allowing breakdowns and from breakdowns it’s allowing the ball being moved. At that point, we’re giving up a layup or a weak-side open three.”

On Sunday, it was the Trail Blazers shooting better than 58 percent from downtown, connecting on 14-of-24 tries.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel wants to see his team “Contain their guards better and negotiate all their screening action better. We didn’t stay with anybody on the defensive end and they got too many open looks.”

The Pacers are 1-13 this season when their opponent shoots 50 percent or better, just as Portland did (50.6 percent).

On the currently assembled Pacers roster, Rodney Stuckey is the tough guy. But he’s slowly working his way back from a bad right ankle injury that nearly cost him his season.

He wasn’t sure why this locker room isn’t on the same page 59 games in.

Stuckey, who's working his way back from an ankle injury, is on a time restriction. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

Stuckey, who’s working his way back from an ankle injury, is on a time restriction. [Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

“To be honest, I don’t really know,” Stuckey said. “Like P [Paul George] said, we got to find it though. I think a lot of people are just frustrated right now because we’re playing a lot of inconsistent basketball. We’ll win two or three games and then we’ll lose three or four games. It’s just a lot of inconsistency. We just got to find it within ourselves to be consistent in all that we do.

“It’s everyone, from the players to the coaching staff.”

The shuffling of lineups and guys being in out and with injuries hasn’t made it easy. But effort a team can control and they admittedly didn’t play with the effort required against Portland. While Portland is streaking and has tremendous talent in their backcourt, I’m not sure anyone expected them to make them to be a playoff team, not after losing LaMarcus Aldridge and then re-tooling their roster.

Yet, as of Sunday night, they are in seventh with a two and half game lead on Houston.

For the Pacers, it begins on the defensive end. It always has. There’s no quick or easy fix, especially against spread teams, but stringing together stops defensively will lead to more fast-break opportunities and an improved offense.

As the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournament invades the Fieldhouse for the next two weeks, the Pacers are on the road for six of their next seven games. Maybe that’s what this team needs to come together and get it corrected. Accountability was uttered by every Pacer postgame. It’s one thing to get it and understand it, and another thing to get it straightened out.

“From top to bottom, we need to work on tuning and becoming who we are,” George said.

Their first challenge begins Monday night in Cleveland (41-17) against a restful LeBron James, who sat out just his second game on Sunday. Both teams have lost two in a row, and the Pacers have lost 8 of 11 on the second night of a back-to-back.

“Tomorrow is a huge, huge challenge,” Paul George said. “We’re playing the best team in the East on their floor. We’re not playing at our best right now, but, again, it takes big games and big challenges for a team to come together.”

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