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Every Team's Season Filled With Odd Games

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 9, 2013, 12:45 AM

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The best thing about the Pacers' most disappointing homecourt loss of the season was how they took it.

Ian Manhimi walked across the locker room to give a pep talk to George Hill, who sat in front of his locker with his head in his hands. David West, left alone after discussing it with reporters, did the same, and clapped his hands once in disgust. Paul George took much longer than usual to get out of the shower, and wrapped himself in towels as if wanting to hide. Lance Stephenson sat on the far side of the room from his locker and stared off into space for awhile after his shower.

Related: Pacers 98, Raptors 100 »

Toronto's 100-98 overtime victory was the fourth homecourt loss of the season for the Pacers. Strangely, two of them have come to the 18-32 Raptors, both by two points. But anyone wise to the ways of the NBA knows that such unexpected outcomes happen every season, and are therefore to be expected. Pick a season, any season, and there are losses at least as confounding as this one. The 1999-2000 Pacers team that reached the NBA Finals lost consecutive home games to Milwaukee and Philadelphia by a combined 31 points in March. The 2003-04 team that won a franchise-record 61 games lost its home opener to Milwaukee by 14 points, and lost again by 14 points in February to a New Orleans team that finished .500.

So there you go. It happens. Every season.

That didn't make it any easier for the Pacers to digest, however, and it shouldn't have. More than in any game this season, they blew one. When you lead by four points with 10.7 seconds left in regulation, you'd think you could deliberately throw the ball out of bounds and still win. What the Pacers did, however, was worse than that.

The Pacers took a 90-86 lead on Hill's two foul shots. Following two Toronto timeouts, Amir Johnson tipped in his own miss, which had followed Rudy Gay's missed layup, with 6.2 seconds left. West then heaved a pass toward Lance Stephenson near midcourt that was intercepted by Gay, who drove to the basket and passed to Johnson, who missed but tipped in his shot the smallest of fractions of a second before the buzzer.

"I second-guessed myself, hesitated a little bit and threw it short,” West said of his pass toward Stephenson, who might have had a breakaway layup if the two had connected. “We just didn't close the game the right way. They made the plays to close the game and we didn't.”

Hill's two foul shots with 1:30 left in overtime tied the game, and West rebounded DeMar DeRozan's jumper. He later threw the ball over Hill's head and out of bounds in the halfcourt offense, but Gay missed an 18-foot jumper to give the Pacers another chance. They squandered that one when Hill drove to the basket and lost the ball out of bounds when Kyle Lowry batted it from behind. Hill, for the record, thought he was fouled.

"We just can't do that," West said. "We've got to get shots in those situations."

Gay than hit a step-back jumper from 15 feet on the right side with 1.7 seconds left, barely clearing George's outstretched hand. Chalk it up to the law of averages, really. Gay had hit just 10-of-39 shots in two games against George's defense before his trade from Memphis, and he was 3-of-13 heading into the fourth quarter of this game. He finished 9-of-25, but was 2-of-3 in the overtime.

“The ones he made, I was there and contested,” George said. “He just made shots tonight.”

George had a chance to force another overtime, but missed an off-balance 17-footer off the dribble near the foul lane at the buzzer.

The defeat dulled some of the shine from the back-to-back-to-back wins earlier in the week, but the only cause for serious concern is the consistency of Roy Hibbert's erratic play. Coming off solid performances against Atlanta and Philadelphia, he scored six points on 3-of-9 shooting and found just three rebounds in 38 minutes. He would have had more rebounds if he had simply raised his arms in anticipation of a missed shot instead of letting the ball skirt past him.

Hibbert's point total was ironic, given coach Frank Vogel's pre-game comment about their meeting that led to his improved play in the two previous games.

"When he goes out and has a six-point night, I feel responsible for that in some ways," Vogel said. “For not putting him in position to have a higher contribution on the offensive end. He took responsibility for not finishing at the rim, but it was two men looking inward and not pointing fingers and trying to come together to find a solution for our team.”

The solution, obviously, remains a work in progress.

Still, had the Pacers lost at Philadelphia on Wednesday after homecourt wins on Monday and Tuesday and then defeated Toronto, everyone would feel better about them. The bottom line is the same, however, and it remains a muddled one.

Good news: Eight of their next 10 games are at home.

Bad news: Six of those eight opponents have winning records.

Good news: Their 20-4 homecourt record is second-best in the NBA behind Miami.

Bad news: They are as close to the eighth and last Eastern Conference playoff seed as the first.

Toronto seemed more enthusiastic about the game from the start, but the Pacers have built up enough goodwill with their recent play to justify the occasional fumble, especially in a unique circumstance. George considered it the most difficult game of the week, even more so than the one at Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Pacers were off on Thursday and didn't have to be at the Fieldhouse for pre-game preparation until 4 p.m. on Friday, as opposed to the traditional morning session. All in all, it was an odd situation that led to an odd game.

"It just set in," George said.

Now they'll have to shake it off. They have just two games before the All-Star break, home games with Brooklyn and Charlotte. They can't let Friday's anomaly become the start of a trend, or they'll really have something to feel bad about.