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Pacers in precarious spot after loss to Bucks

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PHIL TAYLOR
  • Phil Taylor

INDIANAPOLIS -- On paper, Jeff Teague showed up. But that’s about it.

The Pacers point guard played 32 minutes during Saturday’s 116-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, and was as productive as a dead doe. Despite his usual bevy of minutes, Teague scored a season-low two points, attempted as many attempts from the field and never made a trip to the foul line. His abilities as an attacker and a distributor never materialized. Statistically, he was a ghost.

Invisible, forgettable, nonexistent.

Kind of like Indiana’s effort for much of the evening. Though the injury-plagued Bucks hobbled into Bankers Life Fieldhouse having lost 11 of their last 13 games, including seven of nine on the road, they may as well have been the Golden State Warriors. The Bucks sank 17 3-pointers, the most allowed by the Pacers on the season, and executed small ball by the book. Mirza Teletovic scored 19 points off the bench, sinking five shots from downtown, and the burgeoning talents of Giannis Antetokounmpo were demonstrated in a visceral display of finesse and force when the All-Star forward dunked after leaping from just inside the free-throw line.

The loss is Indiana’s third in a row and its most embarrassing defeat since getting blown out November 18 by Phoenix, 116-96. At least the team had a passable excuse that night. Paul George sat with an injured ankle. George was there Saturday, and while he wasn’t quite as forgettable as Teague, he was every bit as perplexing to watch. George finished with 13 points, attempted just 11 shots and fouled out with more turnovers (five) than free throw attempts (three).

The Pacers, who were one of the NBA’s best teams just a week ago, finds itself in a familiar position, a victim of their own flaws.

“We definitely took a step back tonight,” George said. “Again, we allowed their double teams and their traps to kind of dictate this game. We allowed them to play physical and we allowed them to play physical. And that’s where the game was at.”

And things don’t look much brighter in the week leading up to the All-Star break. Indiana hosts San Antonio (41-12) on Monday before traveling to Cleveland (37-16) and facing Washington (32-21), opponents the Pacers look to measure their self against as the postseason draws closer. If they can’t take advantage of a reeling Bucks team at home, this three-game skid could become a losing free-for-all that sinks Indiana's recent optimism.

They’ll need Teague to be the dynamic point guard he’s been for much of the season, and a return to from from George who has played brilliantly since the New Year.

PHIL TAYLOR
  • Phil Taylor

They’ll also need more of the same Monta Ellis they got Saturday. After a frustrating stretch of play as a newly-installed sixth man, Ellis had a renaissance game to score 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. More impressive than his efficiency was his tenacity. In a throwback to his younger self, the 12-year veteran shook the dust off his surgically-repaired knees and threw down a pair of dunks to wake up an otherwise apathetic crowd and keep the Pacers within striking distance.

“It’s different, everything,” Ellis said of his ongoing adjustment as a reserve. “How I’m being played, the situation that I was in. I just had to sit back and look at the situation I was in and do what I’m known for, and that’s attacking the basket and making plays.”

But Indy’s comeback never came. For every run the Pacers mustered, the Bucks responded in kind. As George and Myles Turner labored for breathing room in the paint and at the rim, Milwaukee saw nothing but wide open spaces, hitting 54 percent of their shots from outside.

The Bucks were so proficient from long range that backup forward Kevin Seraphin was unplayable, although coach Nate McMillan was forced to give him a go as the Pacers were without Thaddeus Young (wrist) for the fifth straight game. In the eight minutes Seraphin played, he was routinely burned by Milwaukee’s stretch fours. Indiana was outscored by 13 points when Seraphin was on the court, the worst mark on the team.

Even Al Jefferson, who faced a more traditional matchup against Greg Monroe, was out of his depths. Monroe is no world beater. In fact, he’s been on the trade market the minute Milwaukee signed him in 2016. But against Jefferson, one of the worst interior defenders in the league, he had a picnic to the tune of 17 points and eight boards.

“It’s frustrating,” Jefferson said. “Basketball is a game of mistakes. Things don’t go perfect the way you want it to go. But at the end of the day, it’s all about bouncing back and making adjustments. We’ve been doing it all season long, and we’ve got to the point where we shouldn’t be able to lose two, three games in a row.”

Everyone is saying the right things as this team is near a crisis of characters. They want to be more consistent. They want to execute better. They want to prove their second-half surge is no fluke. They’d better start putting words into action.

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