INDIANAPOLIS – No one is happier to see the month of February end than the Indiana Pacers (15-17).
Indiana wrapped up a 4-8 month of February with consecutive losses on Friday and Saturday night.
Poor late-game execution was the main issue all month long for Indiana, and that showed up again in losses to the Celtics and Knicks this weekend.
Two reeling teams met on Friday with the Celtics beating the Pacers 118-112.
Defending Kemba Walker (32 points, 6 assists) was an issue for the Pacers for all 48 minutes. Indiana got off to a quick start before Boston came roaring back and actually took the lead at the end of the first.
The Pacers had moments where they led the Celtics, but Boston pulled away in the final quarter.
Domantas Sabonis led Indiana with 24 points and 9 assists.
Indiana had 4 other guys in double figures including Aaron Holiday scoring 15 off the bench.
The Celtics outshot the Pacers 51 percent from the floor compared to just 39 percent for the visitors.
Saturday’s back-to-back had Indiana again getting off to another great start, with it all unraveling.
A knee injury to Malcolm Brogdon forced T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup. It was McConnell taking blame for a final-minute turnover between him and Domantas Sabonis, with the Pacers down just two points.
Doug McDermott led Indiana with 20 points.
New York shot 12-of-24 from three with All-Star Julius Randle scoring a game-high 28 points.
The Pacers have two games left on this final road trip before the All-Star break (@76ers on Monday, @Cavaliers on Wednesday).
Three Things Learned
1. Late-Game Execution Issues: A constant throughout the Pacers going an ugly 4-8 in the month of February was their inability to finish games. With the Pacers having injury issues (including Malcolm Brogdon on Saturday), they rarely finish games with the same lineups, and just lack enough dynamic personnel to thrive in late-game situations. Some blame has to fall on the coaching staff, but let’s not act like the Pacers have great individual playmakers that typically thrive in the 4th quarter of games, when the defensive pressure and scouting ramps up. There’s too much parity in the NBA to survive when you can’t make the plays late. Yes, the Pacers can point to various points in the first three quarters for needing to execute late, but part of this is life in the NBA. Close games late are the norm, and the Pacers got exposed there in February.
2. Two Lost Season Series: On top of the recent skid for the Pacers, these weekend losses to the Celtics and the Knicks means they have lost the season series to both of those teams. Some might overlook this note, but they shouldn’t, considering how jumbled the Eastern Conference has been through the first half of the season. Another aspect to this comes from the fact that the top 6 teams in the East are the only ones definitely locked into a Round 1 series. The 7th and 8th spots will come down to a play-in tournament between those teams and the 9th and 10th teams, too. At mid-week, Indiana was 4th in the East. Three losses later and the Pacers are now in the 9th spot, having lost two important head-to-head tiebreakers to teams just above them in the standings.
3. Defending Kemba-Like Guards: Entering Friday night’s matchup vs. the Celtics, the biggest concern for the Pacers should have been defending Kemba Walker. In particular, players with Walker’s skillset as an ultraquick guard with great ballhandling cause major issues for Indiana. That was the case on Friday. Walker scored 32 points (10-of-19 shooting), got to the foul line 8 times and had 6 assists to 1 turnover. Even the older Jeff Teague came off the bench and shot 8 free throws, as well. The Pacers do not have the defensive personnel to neutralize guys like Walker on a consistent basis. He was the difference in the game and sparked that early rally to get Boston back in the game.
Pacers Upcoming Schedule
-@76ers (Monday, 3-3, at 7:00 PM)
-@Cavaliers (Wednesday, 3-3, at 7:00 PM)
-Nuggets (Thursday, 3-4, at 8:00 PM)