With Eyes on the Prize, Pacers Make No Excuses Following Loss

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

January 31, 2014 | 12:18 a.m.

After the Pacers lost for only the second time in 23 games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season, David West said that there are no moral victories.

“We’re not in this thing for moral victories,” said the man who represents the blue collar backbone of the East’s top squad. “We lost the game. We got beat.”

They got beat. This is true.

At halftime, the scoreboard at the Fieldhouse read “Suns 66, Pacers 49.” The Suns - who had been averaging 114 points per game over their previous eight contests and had shot a scorching 49 percent from 3-point range in their prior two games – came to Indiana and picked up where they left off at their last stop, shooting 53 percent from the field in the first half and 60 percent (6-of-10) from beyond the arc.

Phoenix had outscored the Pacers 14-0 in transition, and the 66 points Indiana gave up in the first 24 minutes Thursday night were the most the Pacers have allowed in a first half all season, eclipsing the 62 points that – you guessed it – the Suns scored against them in Phoenix eight days earlier.

“We didn’t wake up until late,” Paul George said. “And by that time it was too late.”

It was too late, but in this case, better too late than never.

The Pacers could have decided at halftime that a huge comeback win would be nice, but hardly likely given that they were fatigued from their five-game western road trip. They could have looked ahead to Saturday’s game against the Nets as the time to rebound and get back on track as they get their body clocks adjusted to the Eastern Time Zone once again.

They could have settled. But that’s not who the Pacers are.

“We knew something needed to change and everybody was on the same page with that,” George said of the mood in the locker room at the half, with each player knowing without having to say a word to another that the present set of circumstances was unacceptable and had to be rectified. “We came out in the second half and for the most part, executed what we needed to do.”

What the Pacers needed to do was slow down Goran Dragic, who scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the first half, gliding around the paint and toward the basket with ease off the pick-and-roll. They also had to raise the defensive intensity level to their usual unparalleled par, one they didn’t come close to reaching on tired legs in the first two quarters.

Answering the call, George stepped forward and asked to switch assignments and guard Dragic in the third quarter.

The result was dramatic.

Dragic scored just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in the second half and with the Pacers as a unit shaking off the first-half cobwebs, the Suns scored just 36 points in minutes 25 through 48 – only 11 in the third period.

“I just felt like Dragic was the head of the snake,” George said. “He really got them going early on, so I just wanted to change it up, try something new on them, and pressure them up.”

Dragic felt the pressure, and saw the change in the Pacers following the intermission.

“The Pacers were more aggressive in the second half,” he said. “They didn’t let us do a lot of things and they started the third quarter really holding us. It was really tough to try to create the open shot and when we did create, we missed our shots.”

By the end of the game, that 53 percent first-half shooting clip for Phoenix fell to 43 percent. The Pacers’ league-leading defense – lying dormant in the first two quarters – had been awakened. And while the second-half resurgence wasn’t enough to mount an incredible comeback on this night, it is an indication of what this team is all about.

For Indiana, there are no excuses. There are no nights off. It doesn’t matter that this team had a 3 1/2 game lead over Miami in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference 44 games into the season; that wasn’t sufficient. It doesn’t matter that only two days ago this squad returned from a road trip on which it logged more than 8,000 miles; there was another game to be played…and won.

“We can’t make excuses,” George said. “Every team goes through a long stretch, you know, when you’re on the road.”

There are no excuses because this grand venture the Indiana Pacers have embarked upon is about more than winning a division or a playoff series, or even a conference.

“Everybody in this organization is in this season for one reason,” head coach Frank Vogel said when asked whether it was disappointing that the team will only have two players going to the All-Star Game next month. “And that’s to win a championship.”

When their legs feel like lead and their bodies are still trying to figure out why it feels like 4 pm at tip-off, the Pacers may be losing by 17 points when halftime rolls around. But inside, they’re not taking a minute off, nor are they taking their eyes off of the prize that lingers in the distance.

It’s a loss on January 30, and it stings these Pacers. Because they know they could be four games up on the Heat instead of three. It stings because the first half of the game just concluded isn’t representative of how this team plays basketball.

But the fact that it stings in the home locker room also shows just how badly the Pacers want what they want. And while there are no moral victories for Indiana as West said, that sting is why what Vogel said later in his postgame press conference rings true:

“We’ll be all right.”

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