Same Story in Pacers' Third Straight Loss

You can offer the excuse of a missing Domantas Sabonis, a new team growing accustomed to one another and the brilliance of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

But the Pacers are getting past the point of giving excuses for their defeats, no matter how valid. Their 117-112 loss to New Orleans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday was more of the same, yet another late-game collapse that was due to their self-destructive tendencies at least as much as the opponent’s achievements.

Just like in Philadelphia last Friday and in New York on Sunday, the Pacers failed to maintain a late lead because they failed to execute their offense. The swift, sleek, in-sync offense of the first half, one that produced 75 points this time, slowly ground to a halt as the game progressed — or in their case, regressed — and was virtually non-existent in the final few minutes.

“The effort is there, but we’re giving up games because we’re beating ourselves,” Darren Collison said.

Three times in a row now.

To recap, they led Philadelphia by nine points with 4:08 left, and New York by two with 2 1/2 minutes remaining. This time they blasted New Orleans with a 75-point first half for a 14-point lead, but were hanging on by the thread of a one-point margin with 7:15 remaining. From there, they proceeded to hit just two of their final 12 field goal attempts and commit three turnovers.

The bottom line of their previous three games after achieving their final lead: 4-of-22 shooting. The reason for that: lack of movement, forced shots and missed shots.

“We’ve got to grow,” coach Nate McMillan said. “Hopefully this doesn’t continue.”

The only good news coming out of the Pacers’ locker room is that nobody made excuses or ducked responsibility. There were a few questionable calls that could be debated, and greatness from Davis (37 points, 14 rebounds) and Cousins (32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) that can’t be debated, but the players knew better than to bring up those issues.

It was all about the offense, or lack thereof, which led to a defense that also was lacking when it mattered most. And the blame starts with Victor Oladipo, the leading scorer who is still testing his wings as scoring leader and team leader.

Oladipo picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and was limited to 8:20 of playing time in the first half, but still scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting. He missed all five shots in the fourth quarter, however, and finished 6-of-17 from the field. It was reminiscent of the loss to Portland in the season’s second game, when he hit just 5-of-17 shots because he was forcing the offense.

Against the Pelicans, he missed a 15-footer, a well-guarded layup in traffic, and two off-balance, forced mid-range jumpers. He also turned the ball over, losing his dribble while trying to go one-on-one, which led to a layup that gave New Orleans a 106-103 lead.

He got a bad break when his made 3-pointer from the left corner was negated by a questionable foul on Myles Turner away from the ball, a shot that would have given the Pacers a 106-104 lead. Still, as in Philadelphia and New York, Oladipo’s overall play wasn’t suitable for a player hoping to become the go-to player when outcomes need to be rescued.

“We were doing a great job of getting each other open, playing for each other,” he said of the first half, when the Pacers hit 64 percent of their field goal attempts and scored the most points in a first half since 2011. “It kind of withered away in the second half. As a leader, I have to make sure we’re ready to play. So, this one’s on me.

“With the ball in my hands, I have to do a better job of making the right decisions, whether that be shooting or driving. Stop doing dumb things out there. Things I can correct. Just have to watch film and get better at it. I’ll be ready (at Detroit on Wednesday).”

Oladipo was hardly alone in his late futility. The Pacers combined to hit 6-of-23 shots in the fourth quarter. Turner, still getting back into shape after missing seven games with a concussion, missed all four of his, including an open 20-footer with 28.5 seconds left that could have given the Pacers a one-point lead.

The Pacers also failed to come up with rebounds on two of New Orleans’ missed free throws in the final 21 seconds. Those second chances clinched the victory for the Pelicans.

Turner, who had played 24 minutes in his first two games back from his layoff, had to go 35 1/2 minutes this time because of the loss of Sabonis, who suffered a bruised right calf in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss in New York. He finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots, but hit just 6-of-16 shots.

“Still not where I want to be,” Turner said. “But to be the player I want to be, I have to push through that. A couple more games I should be back in rhythm. But I can’t depend on that, I have to push myself.”

So do his teammates — push themselves not to play harder, but to play with more poise. The team that got its fanbase excited after winning a third straight game in Cleveland last Wednesday has now lost three in a row, and facing a character-test game in Detroit.

“This is a mental toughness game,” Collison said. “We’ll see what we’re about. We really haven’t dealt with this type of adversity as of yet. Now things are a little rocky, so this will be a true test of everybody.”


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