“We’ve got to figure out how to turn that around,” the point guard said after Tuesday’s 104-91 home loss to Toronto, “and it’s got to be ASAP.”
That’s because the Pacers (16-31) don’t have much margin for error in the next two months and change.That’s because the Pacers, beginning with Tuesday’s loss, have 22 out of 36 at home, including 15 of the next 20 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
If this team is going to overcome continual injuries — C.J. Miles is the latest subtracted from the equation due to a groin strain — it’s imperative that they make the most of this next stretch.
Or they won’t make the playoffs, which was the Pacers’ modest goal at the beginning of the season. Many didn’t give them a shot of making it anyway, because two-time All-Star Paul George isn’t expected back from a broken leg, but they seemed in the hunt until recently.
A seven-game losing streak ended Sunday night in Orlando. So the Pacers came home with a win to build on, but that momentum lasted one quarter.
The Raptors (30-15) showed why they are leading the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. They shared the basketball better, hit more open shots, had a more productive bench, went to the foul line so much more and used their defensive length to stop the Pacers in their tracks in a game-changing second quarter.
Toronto’s 20-0 run showed just how quickly a Pacers nine-point lead can evaporate. It was frustrating for the home team, to say the least.
“I thought their bench brought energy both halves,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, “and separated the game from us both halves.”
The Pacers were supposed to be the team with that sense of urgency, yet their reserves were outscored 42-25. And the Raptors were clearly more aggressive, hence they were rewarded for their energy with foul shots. Toronto converted 27-of-34. The Pacers made 16-of-23.
“Our margin for error (offensively) has been slim all year,” Vogel said. “I sensed some hesitancy on the court. I think we passed up some shots.”
And he admitted the Pacers’ defense wasn’t what it needed to be, either.
Granted, Toronto’s top two scorers were seemingly unstoppable at times. Demar DeRozan scored a game-high 24 points. Ten of those came at the line on 13 attempts. Point guard Kyle Lowry scored 19 points and had eight assists.
“We lost, so it’s not the sense of urgency that you want, but we’ve got to continue to fight, continue to play hard on both ends of the floor, clean up a lot of things,” said Hill, who had 13 points off the bench. “No one likes to lose. Losing dampens, I think, your confidence.”
That it does. And certainly did, when the Raptors went on that 20-0 run.
“They just strong together consecutive plays, we weren’t able to do that, (we) weren’t able to string together stops and slow them down,” said forward David West.
Vogel conceded it required a maximum effort to defeat a team like the Raptors. Yet the Pacers didn’t come close. And that sure seems ominous moving forward.
The Pacers are back home Thursday night against one of the Eastern Conference’s worst teams, the New York Knicks (8-37). If the Pacers are going to have any chance of contending for a playoff spot, they must start winning games, especially against weaker teams, and against some of the better ones when playing on their home floor.
“We need to keep working at it and figure it out,” West said.
And as Hill reminded, as soon as possible.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.