After Tough Loss, Pacers Look to Game 4

by Wheat_Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

April 25, 2014 | 12:45 a.m.

ATLANTA – As the last of the reporters cleared out from Lance Stephenson’s locker after the Pacers’ 98-85 Game 3 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Stephenson turned to his left to Luis Scola, seated at the locker next to him.

“I don’t know what to say,” Stephenson said.

Minutes earlier, Scola had started several of his answers by admitting he didn’t have one. His first response to three separate questions was a polite but slightly befuddled “I don’t know” before taking a stab at a more useable soundbite.

The Pacers got outplayed in Game 3. That much they admitted. They didn’t make enough plays offensively and gave up a few too many on the defensive end to come away with a win on the road.

That happens in the NBA. The lingering question after tonight is whether this was simply a night where things didn’t go the Pacers way or whether it was a harbinger of more struggles to come.

Right now, nobody knows.

A simple scan of the box score tells the story of Game 3. After going 2-of-16 from long range in the first 24 minutes, the Hawks hit 10 3-pointers in the second half to seize control of the game. The home team got to the line 37 times on the night, compared to just 21 trips for the Blue-and-Gold.

On the offensive end, the Pacers shot just 38 percent, including rough nights for Paul George (3-of-11), Roy Hibbert (2-of-9), and George Hill (1-of-11).

Still, they had their chances.

Despite trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter, Indiana rallied behind the play of Stephenson and Scola, who each scored 12 points in the final period.

On two occasions, the Pacers pulled within striking distance, only for a series of most unfortunate events to dissuade their comeback attempts.

The first came midway through the fourth quarter, when the Pacers went on a 7-0 run to cut an 11-point deficit down to four. On the ensuing possession, Stephenson looked to have stolen the ball from Jeff Teague, but lost control as the ball bounced off his leg and out of bounds on the baseline before he could corral it.

Four seconds later, Kyle Korver hit a 3-pointer and drew a foul on C.J. Watson, pushing Atlanta’s lead back to nine.

The second turning point came a few minutes later. With the Hawks nursing an 84-78 lead, the Pacers played a great possession defensively, forcing Jeff Teague to hoist a leaning 3-pointer from the left wing just before the shot clock buzzer. But Teague’s shot went in, pushing the lead to nine with 2:49 to play.

After another minute of action, the officials went to the monitor to review whether Teague shot a 2- or 3-pointer. Replays clearly showed that Teague stepped out of bounds before hoisting the shot, but the referees were unable to make that ruling because they could only review “the position of the players’ feet at the moment they last touched the floor immediately prior to (or, if applicable, during) the release of the shot” according to Rule 13: II (f) (3).

While the Pacers understood the referees’ explanation, they obviously weren’t thrilled with the call postgame. David West questioned the logic of the rule, noting that C.J. Watson’s 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter against Oklahoma City on Apr. 13 had been overturned upon video evidence that he stepped out of bounds.

But the Pacers also universally agreed that Teague’s shot alone didn’t cost them the game.

“They would make shots every time we were making a run,” Scola said. “They were very opportunistic.”

Indiana knows that it needs better offensive and defensive execution if they hope to take Game 4. On both ends there were bright spots, but also areas of concern.

“Only 26 points in the paint – that’s one of the areas we take pride in,” head coach Frank Vogel noted postgame. “That’s pretty good, but we’ve got to get out to shooters, too. We didn’t do a good enough job of that.”

Paul George agreed: “We defended (the 3-point line) poorly, to be honest. We gave them too many looks. Against a team that shoots the 3-ball well, we’ll live with them being contested. But if they’re open, we’re not going to have a chance.”

On the offensive end, Scola and Stephenson’s play in the first quarter (and David West’s in the first half) gave the Pacers a nice boost. But they didn’t make enough shots on the whole to stay with the Hawks.

“I think the energy level that we’ve had in our good moments, like the third quarter in Indiana (in Game 2), we’ve just got to find a way to make those moments longer,” Scola said.

That has been the theme with this Pacers team as of late. They play well in spurts, but haven’t been able to sustain play at a high level like they were doing earlier in the season.

They aren’t panicking, but they know that they need a better effort to win Game 4. Where the team is mentally remains unclear. Paul George was frank postgame, saying “our toughness is questionable right now.”

“We’ve got to understand it’s a long series,” George said. “It’s one game at a time, one possession at a time. But we have to start building some consistency.”

But David West, the team’s veteran leader, refused to read too much into one rough night.

“It’s a long playoff series,” West said. “We’re not going to panic. We came down here to get one game, and that’s what we’re intending to do.”

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