Analysis: A lot to like about Pacers ... but

Pacers' five-game winning streak in home openers snapped as Paul George and Monta Ellis struggle for second straight night.

So far in two games, the Indiana Pacers have scored more, the bench has been solid and there’s reason to think this team is better than a year ago.

If, of course, Paul George and Monta Ellis show up and hit shots.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel said he was still “encouraged” about his team despite the fact  George and Ellis threw up their share of bricks in a 112-103 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

They combined to hit just 8-of-27 shots one night after they made just 7-of-28 shots in a season-opening loss at Toronto. Both games were similar in that regard, as well as the fact that the Pacers made their runs, had a fourth-quarter lead and then disappeared down the stretch.

Growing pains with so much emphasis placed on developing an up-tempo offense and not concentrating as much on defense? Perhaps.

But these same Grizzlies evidently skipped their home opener the night before in dropping an embarrassing 106-76 rout to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A night later, they’re burying 15-of-20 shots in the final quarter, including 4-of-5 3-pointers, to score 39 points and win going away. The Pacers had won their previous five home openers.

“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” said George, the Pacers’ two-time All-Star. “We’ve got to work on everything. Defensively, we were poor. Giving up 40 points to a team that doesn’t shoot threes in the closing quarter is ridiculous.”

So, too, is continuing to force up ill-advised shots when you can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

It's fun to watch the Pacers score more and take advantage of opponents in transition. They've got the guys to get out and run and break opponents down. Center Ian Mahinmi has been a pleasant surprise, too, scoring in double digits both nights. He laid one in after driving by a guy off the dribble.

But this team belongs to George. He knows he's supposed to be the leader. And it's fair to say he’s off to a slow start in that department, too. He was fined $10,000 for critical comments of the officiating after Wednesday’s 106-99 loss at Toronto. George argued that the refs were too preferential to Kyle Lowry.

Then George turns around and gets a technical in the opening moments of his next game for — yeah, it was almost too predictable — barking at the officials. Give it a rest, Paul. Please. You’re setting a bad example for everyone else.

The other team leader, point guard George Hill, also got a technical in this game. And he had one on opening night. Difference with Hill is he’s hitting his shots. He hit 5 3-pointers in the loss to the Raptors and had three more to score a team-high 20 points.

“I think we’ve got to figure out that line of being under control and still playing with that pace in the fourth quarter,” said guard-forward C.J. Miles, who scored 18 points for a second consecutive game.

If it wasn’t for the Pacers’ bench, they wouldn’t have had a chance in this one. Miles, Rodney Stuckey, Chase Budinger and rookie Myles Turner combined for 41 points on 16-of-23 shooting. Turner, the 11th overall pick in the NBA draft, was making his pro debut and scored his first basket with an impressive dunk off a rebound. It’s a shame all of that got wasted.

Ellis brought a 19.3-point scoring average for his 10-year career when he signed as a free agent with the Pacers in the offseason. George averaged 21.7 points per game in 2013-14 before breaking his leg and being lost for all but six games a year ago. The sixth-year pro looked more than healed in preseason. He looked exceptional.

But somewhat inexplicably, George shot 5-of-15 including 2-of-8 on 3-pointers against the Grizzlies. And Ellis was 3-of-12 including 1-of-4 on 3-pointers. The night before, Ellis was 3-of-11 and missed his only 3-pointer while George was 4-of-17 including 0-of-4 on 3-points.

It goes without saying that talking so much to the officials isn’t going to help George find his shot. 

“Those guys are proven offensive weapons,” Vogel said of George and Ellis. “They haven’t got going yet and they will. You can rely on guys like Paul and Monta.”

The Pacers just couldn’t rely on them in their first two games. And that’s the reason they’re off to an 0-2 start.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.


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