The Indiana Pacers are powering a franchise season with the poise and composure of a team deadset on usurping the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference crown behind the league’s best defense, Spurs-inspired cohesion and the suddenly sublime talents of Paul George.
In tonight’s 114 – 81 loss the Houston Rockets were little more than a plastic bag floating across a highway reserved for the Pacers… Do you ever feel like I’m making a Katy Perry reference?
In less words: Holy shit, the Pacers are good.
The Pacers, not the Rockets, posted 53 first half points. They blew the roof off their 97 ppg season average with a season high 114 points. They’ll also be well rested for a Sun-Mon back to back after sitting their starters in the fourth quarter.
Nothing went right for the Rockets tonight. Harden was stonewalled by Paul George. We were unable to find easy baskets. The Pacers wouldn't miss – layups, threes and mid-range jumpers were all falling.
Before the Pacers starters came off the court they maintained a three point shooting percentage above 50% on the game. The Rockets shot 18.2% from three on the night.
The Rockets suffered from poor outside shooting and another paltry performance from the bench.
The first six minutes of the game were seemingly a period of calibration for the Pacers defense. The Rockets found baskets at a slower-than-usual, yet still acceptable, pace to start the game. Half way through the first quarter the Pacers hit their defensive rhythm and the Rockets succumb to the suffering pressure of the Pacers perimeter defense.
The Rockets were frustrated by the Pacers defense and took their time trying to find an offensive approach that would yield results. The only positive and consistent source of offense they were able to find was Dwight Howard’s post play.
By the middle of the second quarter the Rockets found themselves down 12 points when shots finally started falling. A series of makes and trips to the free throw line led to a 10 – 0 Houston run punctuated by two blocks from Dwight Howard on the defensive end.
That’s about where the story ends.
The 10 – 0 Rockets run that resulted in a 2 point game seemed to only irritate the Pacers who made a conscious or unconscious decision to not miss shots and take the defense from suffocating to extra-suffocating.
An 11 point halftime deficit would only get worse.
For the sake of the author’s pride we’re going to skip the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth both teams sat all their starters and the benches played a full quarter of garbage time.
Danny Granger made an argument for his continued presence in the NBA while the Rockets bench failed to show any immediate arguments for expanding our rotation past eight players.
We ended up losing by 33 points if I didn’t mention that yet.
James Harden and Paul George:
It’s abundantly clear both James Harden and Paul George felt like they had something to prove in tonight’s game.
Every time George picked up Harden there was a clear but unspoken intent of stopping the NBA’s best two guard. Actually, his intent may have been routinely spoken. From the looks on Harden’s face there was a good deal of trash talking going down. Was anyone in the front row?
Harden was routinely thwarted by George’s size and wingspan. He settled for several mid-range jumpers due to an inability to blow by the longer George and had his pocket picked several times. Harden isn’t at full speed due to his nagging ankle injury, but the ease George got to Harden’s dribble made me consider Harden casual nature and failure to protect the ball on the perimeter.
A frustrated Harden tried to get his revenge on George on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, James Harden went to work on defense. It resulted in fouls.
Inexplicably Harden played George well when the larger forward tried to post up the smaller guard, but he failed to force George to a side or prevent dribble penetration, opting for intentional contact instead.
One of the clear story lines of this game for someone who has never watched an NBA game before would have be, "woah, do those guys hate each other?"
The one positive aspect of the Rockets offense was Dwight Howard. The Pacers did not double team.
There were plenty of quality Howard-Hibbert post ups where Howard won the battle. He was consistently getting quality shots out of the post and bullied through the lane with a left handed hook at least three times. His left hand looked like his primary hand for stretches.
Howard shot 9 – 16, which could be better, but most importantly he was getting quality post-looks against the potential DPOY.
Meanwhile Hibbert scored only 9 points on 3 – 8 shooting.
Advantage: Dwight Howard
Greg Smith was favored over Terrence Jones in the first half to deal with a beefy Pacers front-court featuring Roy Hibbert, David West and Paul George. Smith served as a good compliment to Howard on the defensive end by clogging the lane and forcing the Pacers to work the ball around the outside, which they did stupendously.
The physical interior battle took its toll on Smith and he took a seat in the second quarter with three fouls.
Smith didn’t fill the stat line, but his presence was felt and he served a valuable defensive role in the middle of the court I don’t frequently see from Terrence Jones.
It appears that McHale intends to go with solid doses of Smith when the Rockets are matched up against bigger match-ups like Indiana, Detroit or a healthy Memphis.
ESPN, sorry to disappoint. I’m sure you were amped to have two high interest teams going at it on a Friday night. You even hyped the Rockets as the young dorks ready to bring a new swagger to the NBA. Didn’t really happen.
The game was such a blowout that the Lakers game hadn’t even started by the time our game was done. Not your traditional TV scheduling dream.