Analysis: Can Pacers Finish Close Games Stronger?

An inconsistent 6-6 stretch should have been significantly better considering Pacers squandered late leads in those six setbacks.

The Indiana Pacers have been a bit aggravating lately, huh?

They began Friday night 3-3 in a challenging stretch of nine out of 11 games on the road, but it’s the way they’ve lost those games that’s been rather discouraging. Not only those games but the last six losses, each suffered after the Pacers led late. Three of them have come in overtime as the season’s OT mark has fallen to 0-4.

Then came Wednesday’s 103-94 collapse at Boston. The Pacers led by three late before getting sloppy. Real sloppy. Four turnovers gave the Celtics four uncontested layups.

And this isn’t a bad basketball team. The Pacers took a 22-17 record into Friday’s home game against the Washington Wizards (18-19). And Indiana is 13-5 at home.

But these guys have been difficult to understand at times. They went through a stretch where they started slow in home games. Now they’re going through a stretch where they can’t finish on the road.

First and foremost, when you've got a two-time All-Star like Paul George, there’s no reason to struggle down the stretch. He’s averaging 24.1 points per game and has proven he can finish.

Veteran guards Monta Ellis and George Hill each are reliable ballhandlers, too. Ellis is in his 11th season and Hill his eighth. Maybe there are times when these guys are wondering who's taking charge, but everyone should be on the same page most nights.

So how does a team with experienced players blow an 18-point lead in the third quarter at Miami or a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter at Houston? Both were lost in overtime.

A lot of the Boston meltdown fell on center Ian Mahinmi, who lost the ball twice and threw an ill-advised pass on another turnover. But George coughed up the fourth and final possession in that disastrous stretch as 94-91 Pacers lead evaporated with the younger Celtics scoring the game’s last dozen points.

After the Wizards game, the Pacers visit Denver, Phoenix, Golden State and Sacramento. The good news is after that, when Indiana has seven of nine at home.

Head coach Frank Vogel said his team was “treading water” during a 7-9 December. The Pacers dropped seven of those games on the road. Four of the nine losses were by four points or less. Two of those close losses were at home and two were on the road.

Again, head scratching. Just a bit, anyway. Not yet time to pull the hair out, though.

It’s often said an 82-game NBA regular season is a grind, full of inevitable ebbs and flows. No need to panic over a rough stretch or two or three, especially if the team has a winning record.

Big picture, the Pacers have provided enough positives. They’re scoring about five points more per game than a year ago at 102.1, which ranks 11th. The defense is still decent at 98.4 points allowed, which ranks sixth, but that’s a bit higher than last season’s 97 allowed per game, which ranked fourth.

The buzz about a dissatisfied George adjusting to playing power forward turned out to be more noise than necessary. He’s already scored 30 points in a career-high 12 games. His 24.1-point average is eighth in the league and his 116 3-pointers rank third. After losing all but six games last season to a broken leg, PG is having the best year of his six-year career.

The new spread offense has worked more often than not. Forward C.J. Miles is getting so many more wide open looks from 3-point range — he’s hit 91 from beyond the arc, well ahead of last year’s pace, when he had a team-high 154.

So if the Pacers can figure out this finishing problem, fair to say they could be dangerous down the road.

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

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