First it was Blake Griffin crushing the Indiana Pacers on Monday, and late Wednesday night Monta Ellis picked up where he left off.
Ellis hit the game-winning shot over Brandon Rush with 0.6 seconds remaining in the game. Indiana was able to move the ball to mid-court, but the play that was drawn up failed to even come close. The Warriors handed the Pacers another road loss, 110-108, making them 0-2 halfway through this West Coast trip. Ellis finished with 36 points, including the game winner. Dorrell Wright and David Lee each had 21 for Golden State.
Danny Granger had a solid game, finishing with 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as Indiana had another fourth quarter meltdown. They held a five-point lead at one point during the fourth quarter, yet when the game was getting close, all they wanted to do was wait for Granger to make a play. Not to compare Granger to LeBron James, but it was almost a Cavaliers/LeBron situation where the team just gave him the ball and watched and waited for him to do something. Nobody wanted to step up, and they were quivering down the stretch as they had 13 second-half turnovers.
The turnovers were mostly unforced, and even listening to Mark Boyle on the radio, you could tell that the team was not ready to handle the pressure. Late-game situations are not exactly the things that this team excels in. In half of the team's losses this year, they have held a lead at some point during the fourth quarter. The meltdowns that this team has had so far this season are the exact same ones they have been having for the past four years. Nearly all of the players are different and/or have improved since then. Who does that leave to blame? Jim O'Brien of course.
Sure Jim has faced some criticism in the past that he didn't necessarily deserve, but the balloon is now full and the needle is just inches away. So many fans here in Indy have been talking about how they want the team to tank the rest of the season so they can get a good draft pick and more importantly assure that O'Brien isn't brought back next year. I don't think it is going to come to that. Even if Indiana does make the playoffs somehow this year, I don't think he will be welcomed back with a new contract next year.
So many times we have questioned the decision making by O'Brien. Last night, I really couldn't stand it. For some reason, he had Jeff Foster in trying to guard David Lee, while Hansbrough and Hibbert sat on the bench. Hansbrough finished with 16 points and was a threat on offense. Foster scared the Warriors on offense about as much as a butterfly scares a lion. At one point in the fourth quarter, Lee scored six straight points on Foster, grabbed three consecutive rebounds and forced Foster to commit two fouls. Boyle and "Slick" were baffled at why Foster was in the game instead of Hansbrough or even Hibbert, who would at least provide them with a threat on offense. We won't even discuss the horrible play that was drawn up at the end of the game.
There is some stuff that isn't 100 percent on the head coach though. Indiana appears to go completely cold in the final quarter, especially in close games. The pressure just seems to be too much for them. In the final few minutes of the game, they could only muster a three-point play where Collison got fouled on a layup just before Ellis came down the floor and hit the game-winner. Granted it was good defense by Rush, and the guy just made a great shot. It was no secret what they were going to do on offense with just 10 seconds left, the isolation for Ellis. They decided to live with him going one-on-one against Rush, and they were snake-bitten.
Before they began this four-game West Coast trip, I figured the best chance they had was to split it. I was counting on them beating the Clippers and Warriors. Now they must face two teams that are even more talented, on back-to-back nights no less, with the Blazers on Saturday night and Sunday night against Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets. Although they get to come home after that, they will be going up against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday of next week, which could mean a very long losing streak for this team. After such a crushing December, this is not what they need.
To be honest, I would be truly shocked if they were to win any of their next three games, and the seat is going to get even hotter for O'Brien. Some people will be happy with that, but that is not what this team needs. They need to grab one of the two final playoff spots and actually get some experience in the postseason. Don't confuse making the playoffs as "success" for Coach O'Brien. Regardless of how the season ends, there is no way he is coming back. They have some good young talent, decent draft picks and a lot of expiring contracts. A new coach will be able to start with that next season and begin to put this team back on the right track.
While things look really bad now and for the past six weeks or so, things do appear to lighten up next month. Although they must face Miami twice, they will also be going up against the Cavs, Nets, Bobcats, Timberwolves, Bucks, and Wizards, while they get the Pistons twice. These are the games that will determine whether this team makes the playoffs this year. It's been way too long since this franchise has been able to make it, which is really sad considering how bad the bottom of the East has been for the past decade. The worst thing this team can do is exactly what it has done for the past five years; just barely miss the playoffs, and getting the second-to-last lottery pick the next year.
I don't want to keep hitting on last night's loss, but it is the pure definition of what has been the problem for this team for the last five years. They are not capable of winning close games, for a variety of reasons. Obviously, the coaching was poor (in a number of areas) but the players are not stepping up, or even acting like they want to. No matter who is on the floor in the fourth quarter, they all appear to be very passive, especially if Granger is out there. I think Hibbert would have shown some want and desire to win that game in the end, but there wasn't much he could do from the bench.
Hopefully we can sit through these next four or five games and pray that February brings us more wins than losses. Luckily for the Pacers, it doesn't appear as though the Nets are going to get Carmelo this year, so that could help their playoff chances. The best thing that could happen is that he stays out West, but it is likely that he will end up with New York, whether it be this year or next. That will be another playoff spot taken away, which will really put the pressure on this franchise.
I think Bird has done an excellent job getting rid of the weeds that have been in the grass for the past few years, and soon guys like Ford and Dunleavy will likely be gone. I have nothing against either of them, but that train has run it's course, and we know that neither of them are going to be in the future plans of this team. The same can be said for Posey and maybe a couple of others. Again, they are good guys, but they are not going to get this team where it wants to go in the near (or distant) future. Hopefully they don't move these guys just to make a move, but if we can get a quality PF somehow out of these guys, I am all for it. I'm not sure how many free agents are looking to come to Indiana, but with some guys, the price may be just right.
Another thing that Boyle and "Slick" hit on during last night's game was the potential sighting of Lance Stephenson. The rookie has been chomping at the bit to get some playing time, but it's hard to do that with Collison, Ford, and Price in front of you on the depth chart. Who is to say who should get 'X' number of minutes and what they are capable of. Most of it is match-up related anyway. Yes, all of these guys can play, that's why they are in the NBA and why I play in pick-up games and town leagues. The problem is we just haven't seen the right "group" yet that is capable of making things happen, especially late in close games. If someone besides Granger wants to take a shot in the last three or four minutes of a close game, that would be nice. I know there were a couple of guys sitting on the bench that would love that opportunity, but again, that is O'Brien's call and is again, part of the problem.
With all of that being said, it was just another disappointing loss to a mediocre team that wanted it more. No question that Ellis, Lee, Curry, and even Wright wanted to win that game. They made plays when it mattered, while the Pacers made turnovers and would shy away from shots. Growing pains, maybe, but sometimes tough love is what people need. I don't know if the discipline is there, or what goes on in that locker room after these types of games, but you would think that the players and the coach would be tired of losing these kind of games.
Maybe it's about time to do something about it.
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