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Communication Key in Loss to Celtics

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

March 7, 2013, 1:05 AM

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If the communication on the court had been as good as it was in the postgame locker room, the Pacers wouldn't have had so much to talk about following Wednesday's 83-81 loss to Boston.

Throughout the room, with reporters waiting their turn, hushed conversations were breaking out everywhere. Paul George, still in uniform, was on the opposite side from his locker talking with George Hill. Roy Hibbert was talking with David West. George, upon returning to his stall, talked with Hibbert.

The gist of it all probably can be summarized by this excerpt overheard from West to Hibbert: “We just weren't ourselves tonight, man.”

No, they were not. They failed to execute at either end after taking a nine-point lead into the final 4 1/2 minutes. From that point they committed three turnovers and missed all seven shots—none of them within 10 feet of the basket. Boston, meanwhile, closed with an 11-0 run consisting of a six-foot floater, a dagger of a three-pointer from Paul Pierce and three layups.

The Pacers' failure to communicate proved fatal on Boston's final possession. Calling timeout after the Pacers were left with no better offensive option than Hibbert taking a 20-footer with 23.5 seconds left, the Celtics came up with the winning play when Green tossed a pass to Kevin Garnett left of the free throw line, then cut behind him. West, who was defending Green, slid through in front of Garnett, pausing for a moment to guard Garnett. Pierce, meanwhile, screened for Green, West ran into Pierce and George failed to switch, leaving Green open for the layup.

That play alone left plenty to discuss.

Meanwhile, on offense, the Pacers were stymied by what George called Boston's “man-zone type of defense.” They hit half of their field goal attempts in the first quarter to take a 27-19 lead, with Hibbert scoring 12. They hit just 20-of-64 shots the rest of the game, with Hibbert getting off just one shot and failing to score.

“It was different,” George said of Boston's defense. “We didn't prepare well enough I guess to take that zone-man … it was different. They started with a zone and matched up. We didn't do a good enough job executing.”

This was one of those if-the-playoffs-started-today kind of games, because the Pacers were the second seed and the Celtics the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the game. No longer. The Pacers dropped to third with the loss, combined with New York's win at Detroit, while the Celtics moved within 1 1/2 games of fourth place.

Something interesting is going on in Boston. The Celtics are 13-4 since losing All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to a knee injury. The common assumption would be that losing the NBA's assist leader would be a bad thing for an offense, but it's becoming a season-saver for the Celtics. Rondo was selfish when it came to collecting assists, dominating the ball so that he could create on his own rather than involving his teammates. They're more engaged with one another now, and it showed on Wednesday.

They defended the Pacers as well as any team has all season, and had enough balance and movement on offense to survive Pierce's 4-of-15 shooting performance that was largely a credit to George's defense.

Their newly-won spirit was obvious when they ran off the court as if they had just won a sectional championship, a parade of whoops, hollers and shaken fists. They had just served notice to Indiana that its remaining 21 games will have to be devoted to more than chasing Miami for the lead in the East. There's plenty going on in its rear-view mirror.

“Our rhythm and our timing was off,” West said. “It was hard to make up for that, especially down the stretch.

"They hit first,” George Hill said. “Normally, we're the ones to hit first, but they hit first tonight.”

“This was a great opportunity for us to prepare for the playoffs,” George said. “To slip up and not be able to take this one, we want to nip this in the bud. It's good we talked about it.”

Over in the department of silver linings:

1. The loss could serve as a valuable wake-up call for the Pacers heading into weekend games in Orlando and Miami, and become an asset should they face the Celtics in the playoffs.

2. The Pacers still have a four-game lead in the Central Division over Chicago, which would assure them of nothing worse than a No. 4 seed, not to mention a Fieldhouse banner.

3. Roy Hibbert appears to have solved his offensive issues, assuming his teammates can get him the ball.

The greatest concern now becomes the related issues of Danny Granger's left knee and bench play. Granger's five-game comeback was aborted by soreness in that knee. He'll be out for at least a week, perhaps longer. It's fair to question if and when he'll come back at full strength. Vogel described his absence as “hopefully a short-term thing” before the game, and said afterward that he still hopes to work Granger back into the starting lineup if he can return at something resembling 100 percent.

The argument for bringing Granger off the bench, however, gains momentum given the shrinking window of opportunity for him to re-establish chemistry with the starters, and Lance Stephenson's improving play. Stephenson had 12 points, five steals and no turnovers on Wednesday, although he did manage to fail to find a rebound in 35 minutes. He's a deserving starter, and a good fit. Given the current lack of production from the reserves, Granger would be a welcome short-term addition.

Granger's role, however, will be something else for the Pacers to talk about when the time comes. For now, their best hope is to need to have the discussion.

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