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Teams only have half a chance against Pacers

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

November 8, 2013 | 12:15 a.m.

You know things are going well for the Pacers when the most anyone can gripe about is their sluggish first-half play. Goodness, they've trailed at halftime in five of their six games, which must mean they're either not focused enough to start games or major league procrastinators who put off the dirty work til later.

They're 6-0, though, so all complaints will be filed away until something drastic happens, such as actually losing a game.

Toronto's Raptors did on Friday what Orlando, New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago had done before them, namely jump out to an early lead. They led by 12 points late in the first quarter and again early in the second before the Pacers perked up and got back within two at halftime. They came back to make their usual third-quarter rush, tacking on a victory that tied the 1970-71 ABA team for most wins to start the season.

“I give great halftime speeches,” coach Frank Vogel said. “These guys really respond to my words. It's all because of me.”

He was joking, of course. But not as much as you might think. Mild-mannered fella that he is, he is capable of some fire and brimstone when necessary. Friday, he heated up the locker room a bit and his guys went out and dominated the scoreboard, 28-13.

“He has his fiery speeches and sometimes he has a laid-back approach,” said Paul George, who scored 17 of his team-high 23 points in that period. “You never know what you're going to get out of Frank.

“It was a little fiery. He's been more fiery. But he was telling us you have to bring some energy, you have to box guys out, you have to look for one another.”

Energized, the Pacers hit 10-of-19 shots, scored half their points in the paint, and limited Toronto to 5-of-18 shooting. They took a 13-point lead into the fourth quarter and built it up to 16 early in the fourth, which allowed them the luxury of coasting to the finish line.

This had the look of a morning-after game, the hangover left from Wednesday's win over Chicago that was played before a national television audience and a sold-out Bankers Life Fieldhouse with playoff-level intensity. The attendance for this one was down to 13,316. Among those missing was team president Larry Bird, who was in Terre Haute for a fund-raising dinner in advance of Saturday morning's ceremony for the unveiling of his statue in front of the Hulman Center.

Evidence of the Pacers' first-half lethargy jumped out all over the box score. George hit just 2-of-10 shots, and gave up most of the 22 points that Rudy Gay scored. Roy Hibbert had one rebound in 17 minutes, and no blocks. They had no fastbreak points and shot 40 percent from the field, and allowed Toronto three backdoor lob dunks or layups. The positive was that they had just six turnovers, but you don't turn the ball over as often when you're not aggressive.

Empty seats, empty hearts?

The players said no. They gave credit to the Raptors, watched video of the first half in the locker room, and made some adjustments. George, especially. He had dominated Gay last season, particularly in the two games Gay played for Memphis before he was traded to Toronto. Gay got away from him in the first half to hit 9-of-13 shots, but hit just 3-of-13 in the second, with all three coming in the final 4:43.

“He was just making some tough shots (in the first half),” George said. “The second half I had the mindset, don't even let him get them up. I tried to crowd him and restrict him. Thank God he stopped making those contested shots.”

In George's new world of elevated standards, this game qualified as an off night: 23 points on 7-of-21 shooting, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and three turnovers. Poor guy. His latest and perhaps greatest challenge will be to avoid the distractions that come with his recent fame and fortune. He has his new 16,000-square foot home in Geist, which he shares with a dog and a longtime friend, and has been in demand for feature stories for national television and commercials.

“I'm going to do my best to be a professional about it,” he said. “The stuff that I have to do, I'll do. Get it done and still get rest, eat well and do everything I need to do to be ready.”

He has a landscaping crew, pool service and maid to take care of the chores, and probably will hire a chef before long, so the demands on his time won't be too great. Which is good, because at the rate the Pacers are going he could be playing basketball into June this season. They're the only undefeated team in the NBA, and have already opened a three-game lead in the Central Division.

They're also more than halfway to Lance Stephenson's stated goal of starting 10-0. George and David West have shrugged that off as “Lance being Lance,” and George said they've reminded Stephenson of the one-game-at-a-time mantra. The next game, Saturday night in Brooklyn, will likely be their most difficult assignment yet, although the Nets did cooperate by going overtime in a loss at Washington on Friday.

Regardless, the Pacers have something special going – something historic, as much as history can be made in the first six games of the season. They're playing without Danny Granger, have played three games without starting point guard George Hill, and clearly have room for improvement, but this much is obvious: they're not half-bad, and still good enough to be perfect.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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