Pacers Still Showing Vulnerability, but Brad Stevens Says ‘Don’t Worry’
March 12, 2014 | 12:15 a.m.
After his team lost to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was asked what he makes of the recent four-game losing streak Indiana had just snapped. His response was one that came from a man trying to mold a basketball team that he hopes will one day resemble what he saw on the opposing bench, but is still far from that standard.
“They’re 47-17,” Stevens said. “They ain’t got no troubles.”
Stevens’ response was perhaps a bit tongue in cheek. Because the Pacers do have troubles.
Indiana snapped its longest losing streak in two years with a victory over the Celtics. But despite getting back into the win column, the contest was a struggle as late as the 4:56 mark in the fourth quarter, when a team that came in 19 games under .500 was within 3 points of the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Indiana did right the ship in terms of points allowed, giving up 83 after yielding an average of 100.7 points in the 11 games they had played since the All-Star break. In fact, Boston shot just 35 percent on the evening, reminiscent of the types of poor shooting performances teams going up against Indiana had become accustomed to in the season’s first half.
The Celtics were just 3-of-19 from 3-point range. Meanwhile, the Pacers were only 4-of-16 from beyond the arc, but shot 55 percent from the field overall. So how in the world was this game as close as it was late in the final period?
If you take a quick glance at the box score, one particular stat jumps off the page: offensive rebounds. Boston had 20 of them. The Pacers had eight. As a result, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 25-8 in second chance points and mounted a real threat to send Indiana to its fifth consecutive loss.
Stevens rightly pointed out that his squad came into the contest 11th in the NBA in the offensive rebound category, so a great deal of credit certainly belonged in the visitor’s clubhouse after this game.
But on a night during which the Pacers unveiled their latest acquisition in a championship-or-bust season – 7-foot center Andrew Bynum – to compliment the 7-2 presence of Roy Hibbert, Indiana was badly outrebounded on the offensive glass. And getting outrebounded on the offensive glass has become a troubling trend for the Pacers, who ranked 22nd in the league in that category coming into Tuesday.
“We guarded their first shot very, very well,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of the effort against the Celtics. “We didn’t keep them off the glass well enough.”
On the offensive end, the Pacers shot a high percentage from the floor, but symptoms of a 20th-ranked offensive team continued to appear, most glaringly with the two most significant offensive threats on the team, Paul George and Lance Stephenson.
George was efficient on Tuesday, hitting five of 10 shots from the field. But he only took 10 shots when he came in averaging 17.3. He finished with 12 points and only went to the foul line once, hitting his two free throws when he came in averaging 5.6 free throw attempts per game.
One reason for these numbers was that George got into foul trouble early and, consequently, played only 30 minutes. But that’s been another troublesome trend. George has averaged just 32 minutes over his past four games, being called for four fouls in three of them. He’s averaged only 13.5 points over that span, well below his 22.1 points per game average for the season.
Stephenson turned in a solid performance in Indiana’s loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on Sunday, scoring 21 points on an ultra-efficient 8-of-10 from the field, but outside of that has averaged just nine points per game on 37.2 percent shooting over his past five games, including nine points on 4-of-12 shooting Tuesday. Those figures are a far cry from his 14 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting overall.
Bynum’s performance in his Pacers debut was a good one. He had eight points and 10 rebounds in 16 minutes on the floor. But his competition wasn’t exactly the type that would provide an accurate barometer of what he is capable of against larger, more physical players in the paint.
So it has gone for the Pacers. A 94-83 win over the Celtics Tuesday is, of course, better than a fifth consecutive loss. Especially considering the Miami Heat are nipping at Indiana’s heels in the race for the top seed in the East.
But this was another win that left observers of this team uneasy. It wasn’t dominant. It wasn’t a signature Pacers victory. It left a lot to be desired. It allowed for the continuation of a feeling that was unthinkable a couple of months ago: the Pacers are vulnerable.
But wait a second.
Perhaps there is more to what Stevens said after the game Tuesday night. Are we making too much of the current blue and gold malaise?
“I know we’ve got to make a story out of something,” Stevens said. “But it’s really not a problem. And I’ve lived it on the other side, where you’re almost over-cynical about a really good team. And that becomes hard, too. The challenge for the Pacers – and they know this – is to continue on and not get too down or too high. And they’re good at it; Frank’s the best at it. He’s one of the best in the league at it.”
Stevens knows a little something about coaching a really good team and the scrutiny that comes over a long season. And folks around here know a little something about his Butler basketball squads in recent years. Maybe this is a time in the season when it’s instructive to remember how quickly momentum can change in the NBA. After all, it was just last month that Kevin Durant was playing at an All-World level and making his Thunder the team to beat in the West, and possibly the The Association.
Since Russell Westbrook returned, Oklahoma City is just 4-5.
The Heat, as we know, were “coasting” and losing to a number of sub-.500 teams. Then James became what Durant had been before him for a time, stoking the flames of an epic MVP race.
We may look back at this stage of the 2013-14 season a month or two from now and wonder what all the fuss was about. Stevens certainly thinks that could be the case.
“I wouldn’t worry too much,” said the man who grew up a Pacers fan in Zionsville. “If you’re a Pacers fan, there’s probably other things in the world to worry about.”
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