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Pacers remain in an early season rut

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PHIL TAYLOR
  • Phil Taylor

INDIANAPOLIS -- As Paul George sat helpless on the bench, watching his team lose a second game in as many nights, he saw the same laundry list of errors that have caused the Pacers to stumble to a 4-6 start.

“It’s still the same stuff,” George said looking dejected at his locker after Indiana lost 105-99 to the Boston Celtics. “No ball movement, a very stagnant offense. Defensively I thought we were out of it for a huge portion of this game tonight, and we didn’t make the necessary stops that we needed.”

George’s apt diagnosis is one that fits almost every Pacers game this season. Win or lose, Indiana has appeared less than the sum its parts, playing herky-jerky offense while routinely getting gored on defense. But George has been there to act as a band-aid for the team’s woes, often willing them to victory.

He never got a chance Saturday, missing his first game of the year due to a sprained ankle. George was a game-time decision before the tipoff and says he is day-to-day heading into Monday’s game against Orlando.

C.J. Miles started for George, finishing with 8 points on 3-of-10 shooting.

The loss ends a 10-game stand in which the Pacers had ample opportunity to jell their new-look roster into something more cohesive than the clunky letdown that’s routinely taken the floor. Indiana’s opponents had a combined record of 30-36 before Saturday’s game, including stops in Brooklyn and a home-and-home with Philadelphia, two teams well on their way to the NBA lottery.

The Pacers blew their chance to warm up its engine and now stare down an upcoming spat of games that could run them into a brick wall. Indiana faces Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City, Portland and the Clippers in the next 11 games, teams that are a combined 35-11 and rank among the upper echelon of the league.

“It’s still early,” center Myles Turner said. “We still have time to get it together. It needs to start happening soon. I’m still confident with this group.”

Turner finished with 17 points, 8 boards and 3 blocked shots.

Turner might feel this roster as it is currently constructed can get to the level of play envisioned by team president Larry Bird. Results thus far remain perplexing, sometimes frustratingly so.

Bird should be on the lookout for help elsewhere in a trade. Indiana’s pressing needs are caused by a litany of redundancies. Guards Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis and Rodney Stuckey (who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury) are similar versions of the same player. All three need the ball to operate and are most effective when attacking the paint.

PHIL TAYLOR
  • Phil Taylor

Such players are obvious must-haves for any team, but the Pacers need help on the wing and in the post. George regularly guards the perimeter with tenacity and focus, but is the only one among his teammates to do so. Ditto Turner and his abilities to run the pick-and-roll and protect the paint. But when Turner gets into foul trouble, reserves Al Jefferson and Lavoy Allen suck up bad shots and allow opponents to score at will.

Which is why Allen’s extended time on the court Saturday is so puzzling. Despite shooting 1-for-6 from the field and missing several 50-50 balls -- the very thing Allen is there to do -- he remained a close game over starter Thaddeus Young, who finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in 23 minutes.

“We just felt like, on (Boston forward) Jonas Jerebko, that Lavoy was doing a pretty good job of being solid,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “They had 15 offensive boards and we wanted someone in their who could rebound the ball.”

Lavoy Allen, Jonas Jerebko stopper.

Yes, George’s absence hurt and made every offensive possession a grueling chore, but this was nonetheless a winnable game over an opponent missing two of its key players (Al Horford and Jae Crowder). With 2:55 left in the fourth quarter, Indiana trailed 93-91, but little ball movement led to bad shots and turnovers led to touchdowns for Boston.

Rather than execute, the Pacers folded. Rather than finding resolve, the Pacers remained rooted in their lackluster rut.

Something has to give, or the season will be lost. Worse yet, Paul George is gone in 19 months when he becomes a free agent.

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