Pacers ease off gas, comeback falls short in home loss to Knicks

After hitting the midpoint of the season in Sacramento, the Indiana Pacers have since dropped three in a row for just the second time this season. Inconsistency was the buzzword through the first 41 games, where they went 22-19 — the same midseason record as last season.

Their latest defeat came on Monday, 109-103, in front of a nationally televised audience on TNT that brought Reggie Miller back to Indianapolis. The Pacers (22-22) jumped ahead on the lowly Knicks (20-26) and had a 12-point lead at the end of the first period.

But then, they let off the gas.

They were then outscored 53-26 and fell behind as many as 17. The ball movement, chasing of rebounds, and sharp passes were gone. Mostly, they were outplayed in the second and third periods.

George, who scored 13 of his game-high 31 points in the first period, didn’t like the drop off from the first to second units.

“Each group that enters that game has to be ready. That’s just what it comes down to,” he said.

(Prior to the game, George was presented his Olympic ring.)

At low points throughout the game, veteran Monta Ellis, who now comes off the bench, huddled up the guys. He had a message for the group.

Monta Ellis had 6 points, including two key free throws. [Frank McGrath/PS&E]

“I just think at times when we get the lead, we get stagnant,” Ellis said. “We play one-on-one basketball and forget to move the ball. When we get a team that’s switching, it kind of makes us slow down and we’re trying to get that mismatch and that ball gets stuck. And then the defense is loaded and then we get down to the [end] of the shot clock and we have to make a quick play or take a bad shot.

“We just got to play through it. It’s a little stretch right now we’re going through. We’ll play out of it.”

The Pacers eventually did that, racing back in the fourth quarter via a 17-2 run to draw to within one, 100-99. That came on a great sequence as Myles Turner blocked a Derrick Rose layup, then sprinted back to the other end for a put-back flush on a Ellis miss.

A minute later, Ellis attacked and was tripped by Kristaps Porzingis, his sixth foul. Ellis — who had six points, three rebounds, and three assists — rolled his ankle and came out of the game after hitting two foul shots.

“It’s all right,” he said, after ripping a large ice bag off postgame. “It feels better than it looked.”

The Knicks broke a tie on a 14-foot jumper from Carmelo Anthony, who scored a team-high 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting, and then the Pacers called timeout to draw up a play. The ball came inside to Turner … and he lost it out of bounds.

“That’s tough, man,” he said, shaking his head. “It speaks for itself. That was one we dropped at home and can’t get it back, so it’s frustrating. I just dropped the ball. That’s the only way to put it. I just dropped the ball. It sucks.”

The Knicks, who had lost 4 of 5 and 13 of their last 16 games, scored 40 second-quarter points and outscored the Pacers by 16. The Knicks shot 65 percent from the floor, made 12 of 13 free throw attempts, and had a 12-5 rebounding edge — which helped them to a four-point halftime lead.

“We had the energy, it just wasn’t enough,” Turner said. “That second quarter really hurt us.”

Added Jeff Teague: “The fire went out.”

Even Al Jefferson, who finished in double figures for the fifth time in the last seven games with 13 points, tried to keep the guys focused and engaged. As he stood at mid-court waiting to be waved in, he was slapping his hands together and encouraging teammates.

“I think it’s our energy,” Ellis said of their biggest issue over the last week. “We have to keep chipping away, we’re going to get it together.”

The Pacers had won five consecutive home games and 10 of its last 11. They entered the matchup with nine straight regular-season home wins over the Knicks.

This team’s schedule is all out of wack, playing just one game in London and then quickly returning to a normal slate. They had a home game, a 98-95 win over New Orleans, and then went out west for three games. Monday’s loss to the Knicks was their third game in four days.

Teague says they still haven’t recovered.

“Nah. As soon as we got back we had to play a game, and then we had to fly out west. I think guys want to get their legs under them. I know Thad [Young] wasn’t feeling very good at all today, and Aaron [Brooks], and a lot of guys are just banged up.

“I think we feel like we’ve been going since we went to London. It’s been tough, but that’s the hand we were dealt. We have to play the cards.”

Rodney Stuckey was absent for the 17th time in 18 games because of a sore left hamstring. Brooks, Indiana’s backup point guard, sat out his third game this season due to a sore right knee. The Pacers are 0-3 this year without Brooks in the lineup.

Head coach Nate McMillan is still trying to find the right combination. In this one, he opted to bring Glenn Robinson III off the bench and inserted C.J. Miles into the starting lineup for the fourth time. Miles looked good, contributing 10 points and three rebounds in 34 minutes, though he was just 2-of-9 from deep.

“I just felt we needed to make a change,” McMillan said. He plans to continue with Miles in the starting lineup Thursday in Minneapolis.

They have sights on a mini-goal: Record their first winning month of the season. Thanks to a great start to January, winning six of seven, that feat is within reach. But losing three straight and four of six is costly though. They have three games left this month, two at home, and two against below .500 teams (at Minnesota, v Sacramento).

More importantly, this team needs to find some positive momentum and rhythm. Oh, and some consistency.

Between the first and second quarters, the team celebrated Hall of Famer Reggie Miller with clips of him scoring on the Knicks. Fitting. And he loved it.

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