On the eve of Groundhog Day, the “could’ve, should’ve” Indiana Pacers saw their shadow and lost another close game.
Hopefully it doesn’t mean two more months of losing these kinds of games. They've lost enough like this in the previous three months.
Optimists will point to how the Pacers pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James to the brink Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and did so despite leading scorers Paul George or Monta Ellis experiencing awful shooting nights.
But for a team that has lost a league-high seven games by three points or less and found ways to blow so many late leads in the fourth quarter, the Pacers were understandably frustrated to collapse down the stretch and fall 111-106 in overtime to the Eastern Conference's best team. And the Cavs sure were vulnerable, especially after managing just 15 third-quarter points.
“It’s been the story of this season for us,” said a frustrated George. “Play well enough to win it, and lose it late in the game.”
The Pacers (25-23), who dropped to 1-5 in overtime games, could have won this at the end of regulation. But rookie forward Myles Turner had a brain cramp and didn’t set a designed screen for Ellis, whose forced jumper at the buzzer didn’t even touch iron.
“That was all on me,” said Turner, the 19-year-old newcomer who was dazzling at times with his first double-double as well as an impressive block on a James drive. “I kind of forgot the play.”
“That last play was on me,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “I’ve got a young kid in a crunch-time situation. I need to look him in the eye and tell him what to do.”
Down three in overtime, the Pacers’ last gasp ended with another ugly possession. George was bottled up so he passed to George Hill, who was guarded well and didn’t realize he had more time before launching a quick 3-pointer — although one leg was still inside the arc. The shot missed anyway.
“We were trying to get Paul open at the top of the key with George as the second option,” Vogel said.
The Cavs (35-12) remained unbeaten in five games with new head coach Tyronn Lue and snapped a 10-game, regular-season losing streak at Indiana. The “Big Three” of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for all 15 of the visitors’ overtime points. Irving finished with a game-high 25 points and James had 24.
"We knew it would be a hard-fought game in this arena,” Irving said.
George, who has had his share of struggles lately while dealing with leg fatigue, made just 3-of-15 shots to finish with 11 points. More is expected and typically received from the Pacers’ best player, recently named an All-Star for the third time.
“It was a very winnable game that we feel like we let go, let get away,” George said.
Ellis, coming off a season-best 32 points in a Saturday overtime win over Denver at home, made just 5-of-18 shots to finish with 14 points. Ellis and George were a combined 2-of-13 on 3-pointers.
Hill was the Pacers’ best option. He had a team-high 23 points including four 3-pointers. But the awkward play at the end of overtime put him in a bad situation with time running out.
“Very, very frustrating,” George said, shaking his head.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.