West Delivers in Words and Deed
February 2, 2014 | 12:11 a.m.
The Pacers are slumping. They're turning the ball over too often, Paul George is shooting poorly and fixated on officiating, the bench production has slipped and their flypaper defense has lost its grip.
Fortunately for them, they have David West to keep a thumb in the dike to prevent the town from flooding and to lay down the law to any newcomers who join their community.
West was the steadiest and timeliest Pacer in Saturday's 97-96 victory over a Brooklyn team that is vastly improved from the three earlier meetings, which the Pacers won by an average of 12 points. If not for him, in fact, the Pacers would have suffered a second consecutive homecourt loss, which would have brought about as great a crisis as a conference-leading team can have.
They are 36-10, but have split their previous six games and aren't winning with the proficiency of previous months, when teams like the Nets were sent home with bruised feelings and bodies. They committed a season-high 24 turnovers on Saturday, allowing 36 points. George, the All-Star starter, hit 7-of-19 shots, making him 22-of-75 over the past four games. The bench combined to hit just 4-of-18 shots, with Danny Granger going 1-of-7. He's now 5-of-27 over the past four games.
Things are such at the normally chipper Frank Vogel has become chippy. He was untypically curt in his responses to reporters' questions Saturday, saying simply, “We didn't play a great game.”
He didn't exactly heap rose petals on the players in the post game locker room, either.
“We can play a lot better,” West said. “We've had some slippage. We've had some cracks in the armor. He has a sense of that. He pushed us yesterday in practice and challenged us to respond. We're just being careless with the ball.”
That's why the Pacers put the ball in West's hands down the stretch. Although the team's fourth-leading scorer, he's tends to be the go-to guy in the waning moments of close games, when insecurities are revealed and confidence wanes.
He hit the Pacers' last and biggest field goal in the final minute off a called play out of a timeout. Catching the ball at the foul line, he passed on handing off to a curling Lance Stephenson, dribbled left of the basket and hit a fading 8-footer over Paul Pierce for a 93-88 lead with 57.4 seconds left. He also assisted on the Pacers' second-to-last field goal, getting a dunk for Roy Hibbert, and hit 3-of-4 foul shots in the final 7.6 seconds to preserve the victory.
“I don't have a problem with that; no problem with that,” West said of his crucial free throw opportunities.
He finished with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds, seven assists and one turnover. He then delivered a clear and efficient post-game address to the media on both the game and the acquisition of free agent center Andrew Bynum.
“We're swinging for the fences,” he said, regarding the turnover rate. “At times we need singles and doubles. We were trying to make home run plays at the rim instead of a simple (pass) and another one and get the shot we want.”
Pacers president Larry Bird swung for the fences earlier in the day when he signed Bynum, the free agent center who was an All-Star for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. Bynum brings massive size and talent, but similar baggage. He sat out all of last season with Philadelphia, with knee injuries, and was suspended by Cleveland earlier this season for conduct detrimental to the team.
Related: Pacers Take a Chance on Bynum
He represents little risk for the Pacers, who can cut him loose if he doesn't contribute with minimal financial loss, but extraordinary upside. He has triples doubles and 30-rebound games in his past as well as conflicts with coaches and suspensions for flagrant fouls. He brings depth to a potential trouble spot for the Pacers, but also threatens an untroubled team chemistry.
Bird sought West's opinion of Bynum, but West said he offered little help. He doesn't know Bynum, and has no strong feelings about him. West knows one thing, though: Bynum will have to adjust to his new team. They aren't adjusting for him.
“We're not going to make this about him,” West said. “We're going to make this about the group. The last two situations (in Philadelphia and Cleveland) it was about him more than the group. This is always going to be about the group here and what we've been building. He has to come in and get himself acclimated to that.
“He has some work to do. If he can get himself right … and play the way we need him to play for us, he can help us.”
Bynum returned to Cleveland after signing with the Pacers Saturday morning. He'll return soon, and begin practicing with the team. He's not expected to make a game appearance for a few weeks. By the time he does, he'll no doubt know what's expected of him. He knows now, in fact, if he reads West's comments.
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