Wednesday night was one of those evenings where we all would have understood if the Pacers came up short…
They were playing the second-half of a back-to-back against a Pelicans ball club with legitimate hopes of reaching the postseason. It was opening night in New Orleans and nearly 18,000 were on hand to witness what they hoped would be a promising start to the season.
But this doesn’t appear to be the same Pacers team we’ve seen in years past.
After trailing 50-36 at the half, the Pacers fought, clawed, and scrapped their way back into the game. Roy Hibbert, who dealt with foul trouble all game long, provided quality minutes in the fourth and had five blocks for the game (he has 12 in two games). George Hill, who was frustrated with no calls for most of the night, regained his composure and finished with 19 points (including the three-pointer that all but sealed it). And Paul George, who is knocking on the door of superstardom, put the entire team on his back when they needed him most and finished with a game-high 32 points.
No…this is NOT the same Pacers team we’ve seen in years past.
Last year’s Pacers would have lost a game like this…especially in October. Paul George would have been passive. Hibbert would have let his struggles in the first three quarters affect him in the fourth. But this is a new year, with a new attitude.
If the Pacers are going to win the Central Division or the Eastern Conference, they need to have a killer instinct on the road. They demonstrated that last night and earned a rare road win over a team celebrating opening night. That may seem like a meaningless fact, but even garbage teams give their best effort in the home opener. The Lakers beat the Clippers, right? Did you see what Philly did in their home opener against Miami? How about Cleveland’s win over Brooklyn? In 17 games so far…home teams are 15-and-2. The fans in New Orleans had the same intense passion and energy you’d expect on opening night…but the Pacers overcame it.
There are still some things we need to keep an eye on moving forward. George Hill finished strong last night, but he needs to be consistent throughout games. He can’t get discouraged or frustrated with no calls because when he’s mentally out of it…it’s noticeable. He struggles defending dynamic guards, and if he’s not going to lock them up, he HAS to keep them honest on the other end of the floor. Again, I loved the fact that he woke up in time to contribute to the win, but his team needs him to be focused and efficient every night.
Turnovers are still a problem. The Pacers have 36 turnovers in two games. That’s ridiculous. Cleaning it up will keep the team from having prolonged scoring droughts.
Hibbert has to stay out of foul trouble for a couple of reasons. For one, he’s an unbelievable difference maker defensively. Again, he has twelve blocks in two games and is an absolute menace inside. Offensively he’s active on the offensive glass and finishes well at the rim. When Roy is in foul trouble – we have to see Ian Mahimni for extended stints….and Ian appears to be the exact same player we saw a year ago. He’ll give you the occasional spectacular block and zilch on the offensive end. Unless he’s able to elevate his play, it’s imperative Roy stays out of foul trouble. After Miles Plumlee recorded 18 points and 15 rebounds in his debut with Phoenix last night, it’s only a matter of time before someone asks if the Pacers kept the wrong back-up big man.
All in all, there’s very little to complain about after two games and two wins. Saturday night the Pacers will look to earn their second 3-and-0 start in two years as they host Uncle Drew and the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s no reason to believe they won’t be up for the challenge.