Pacers need to change the tide before All-Star break

Monta Ellis was one of six Pacers to reach double figures Monday. [Frank McGrath]

One week later and the vibe is much different. The momentum, flow, and execution isn’t what it was during the Pacers’ longest win streak of the year that stretched to seven wins last Monday in a home win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Two days later, the streak came to an end against Cleveland, the conference leaders.

In Monday’s 110-106 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the energy was much improved from their pathetic showing Saturday in defeat to the Bucks, who were without key pieces. This battle was fun and evenly matched. A glance at the box score shows the Pacers shot 48.7 percent to the Spurs’ 46. Both teams turned it over 11 times and led by as many as nine points.

Ultimately, the Pacers (29-26) were outscored at the free throw line by two, they missed nine attempts with five coming in the decisive fourth quarter. Add to that how the Spurs, who improved to 42-13, grabbed 12 more rebounds than the Pacers and outscored them 15 to four in second chance points, and that’s where you get the 110-106 result.

“We normally knock down our free throws,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said afterwards. They are second in free throw percentage (81.1) behind only Boston (81.6 percent).

“Free throws are a part of the game that you must make those. Especially going down the stretch.”

Two-time NBA All-Star and 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court. He made more than half of his shots, going 13-of-23, and he finished with a game-high 32 points.

“It’s always fun playing against Kawhi,” Paul George said. “Good friend, good matchup. He had a lot of great looks of screens. They really know how to screen and get guys open.”

Gregg Popovich, a Merrillville, Indiana native and the longest-tenured head coach across the four major sports, has brought his team to Indianapolis for their annual visit and left with a victory in eight of the last nine years. Under his leadership, the Spurs have gone 30-8 against the Pacers.

The Pacers, who now are 4-4 in February, had six players reach double figures with George’s 27 leading the bunch. (They are now 11-5 this season with six or more players scoring 10 points or more. I’m surprised they don’t have more wins in that scenario.)

Coach McMillan said he learned just over an hour before the game that Lavoy Allen, who participated in morning shootaround, would not play due to knee soreness. They were already with starting power forward Thad Young for a sixth straight game. A sprained left wrist — his shooting hand — is expected to keep him out until after the break.

That meant reshuffling of the lineup, starting Kevin Seraphin, who was effective (12 points, four rebounds), and Glenn Robinson III, who was not (scoreless, three rebounds, and two steals in 22 minutes).

The Pacers had a three-point lead, 97-94, with 4:08 remaining. From there, the Spurs outscored the Pacers 16-9.

Kevin Seraphin missed two free throws. Monta Ellis went 1-for-2. 90 seconds later, George, now third in free-throw percentage across the league (91.1 percent), went 1-for-2.

Myles Turner scored 22 points, including nine free throws, in the the Pacers’ loss to the Spurs. [Frank McGrath]

Myles Turner had the challenge of going against LaMarcus Aldridge (19 points, seven rebounds) for much of the night. After finishing with 22 points and six rebounds, Turner felt this game was lost between the baskets.

“Some of it’s awareness, some of it’s IQ, some of it is just getting down and doing the dirty work,” he said of losing out on 50-50 balls. “… We got to stay locked in on our ultimate goal.

“On a positive note, I feel like we’re competing. Besides last game [against Milwaukee] I feel like we’ve been competing. From a negative standpoint, we haven’t done the, I guess the special teams I would call it. Just doing the little things.”

The Pacers’ final push to the All-Star break hasn’t been easy; we didn’t expect it to be. Over the course of 11 days, they have seven games against five teams — four of which are playoff teams. And they played their worst game against Milwaukee, a bunch that is one game out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

With so many games during a tight stretch, mostly due to playing in London last month, they haven’t had time to dwell or reflect on their poor play in a loss to the Bucks. Games come at you fast in the NBA.

“You have to move forward in this league,” Turner added. “We have tough opponents all week so we have to just get ready for the next game.”

C.J. Miles, playing in his 12th NBA season, says it is “extremely important” to head into break on a positive note.

“You don’t want to go into the break on a skid,” he said. “You want to come back with that confidence. You don’t want guys coming back like, ‘Man, we got to figure this out.’ You want to come back strong, confidence, rested, obviously, and be able to take that momentum back with you through the break. You don’t want to come back pressing because now you start looking at the standings, you start overthinking stuff, you start pressing. You want guys to come back and understand what we’re doing and know where we are trying to go.”

What has been encouraging for Indiana is to see Rodney Stuckey play in five straight games. He’s missed 32 games this season due to injury, far more than anyone else on the team. He chipped in 13 points off the bench. Ellis has been looking to contribute more and scored seven of his 10 points in the final frame. They are do need Young, a versatile stretch-four, back.

Most of all, the Pacers need at least one win before break. The worst case would be for them to lose Wednesday in Cleveland and back home against Washington Thursday night. They’ve now lost four straight games for the second time this season, making Wednesday, in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN, even more important.

In a span of six days and after four consecutive losses the script has flipped. The Pacers will now go into Cleveland looking to get back in the win column in their second-to-last game before the NBA’s All-Star break.

“Around this time and after All-Star break is when the real season starts,” Miles continued. “Guys have pretty much cemented themselves in their spots, they’re going to be a playoff team or not. You see some teams that know they are not [a playoff team] and they start playing the young guys, they start moving the rotation around a lot.

“And then you see guys like us who start really prepping to get ready for that run. And those little things are what make the difference. Those little things are what are going to win the playoff games because in the playoffs.”

This Pacers team should and will qualify for the postseason for the second season in a row. They have the talent to do so.

As Turner pointed out, they’ve been in this similar position before. Before playing across the pond in London, and really turning in a bad performance, the Pacers ripped off five straight wins. Then they lost four of their next six games.

“It’s not like we haven’t been here before,” Turner said. “It just happened right before we went to London. It’s just a matter of getting out there and getting back to winning.”

2 Responses to Pacers need to change the tide before All-Star break
  1. Michael Bradbury
    February 14, 2017 | 8:51 am

    This is a .500 team or slightly better. The winning streak was an illusion sparked by a weak schedule. Accept that reality and the season will go down much smoother. 😉

  2. STAN THE MAN!
    February 14, 2017 | 12:00 pm

    A TRUE PACER FAN… PACERS SHOULD RE-VISIT(BORN READY)LANCE STEPHSON…. THE TEAM HAS TURNED INTO A JUMP SHOOTING TEAM… BESIDES STUCKEY AND MONTA THERE IS NO 1 THAT TAKES THE BALL TO THE RACK! WE NEED SOMEONE AGRESSIVE LIKE LANCE….

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