HOUSTON — There were always nights when the shots fell easily and others where it was a struggle. But the vagaries of the offensive performance were rarely much of a concern to the Pacers because they thrived on a defense that was tighter than a bear hug and just as suffocating.
After a 112-86 loss to the Rockets — their worst defeat of the season — the Pacers are trying to find that defensive calling card which was their identity and their path to contending for a championship.
With their first three-game losing streak of the season, the Pacers have fallen into a tie in the loss column with Miami in the battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“It’s nothing serious,” said forward Paul George. “We just got to find out who we are, point-blank.
“One, it’s getting back to what the Indiana Pacers used to be. That was a grind-out (team). When teams came to play us, they knew it was gonna be a long night. It’s not getting back to that right now. I think over the last probably 10 games we’ve been giving up probably 100-plus points. We’re usually an 80. Regardless of what we were doing offensively, we were winning games in the 80s. And that’s what we gotta get back to.
“I don’t like losing. This is the first time we lost three in a row and this (bleep’s) gotta change. We got to get better as a team. We got to get back to how we used to play.”
In the 10 games since the All-Star break, the Pacers are 6-4. But what is notable and significant is the slippage in the No. 1 rated defensive in the league. For a team that has surrendered an average of 91.7 points per game on the season, the Pacers have allowed eight of their past 10 opponents to get at least 96. They’ve given up 100 or more three times in that stretch, topped by the Rockets’ explosion on Friday.
“Every team I’ve ever been a part of has had a stretch like we’re in right now,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always worked our way up. I’m sure we will. It stinks right now. It’s not fun right now. But we’ve got a good team and we’ll regroup.”
To a man, the Pacers seem suddenly lost and confused on the court and in the locker room. Following this blowout loss, George, Roy Hibbert, David West and several other veterans gathered in Vogel’s tiny visiting locker room office and were still trying to figure things out nearly an hour after the game ended.
“Offensively, we haven’t been the most efficient team all year, but we were able to defend the 3-point line and defend the paint and at this point we’re not doing enough of either,” Hibbert said.
“I don’t know. In a game you go back and forth with punches, figuratively, and we’re not responding the right way. We gotta figure that out at both ends because we’re struggling mighty bad. We have to have at least one and right now we don’t have either.”
What the Pacers do have is still a quarter of the regular season schedule to figure it out.
“It would be bad if this was the playoffs right now,” said point guard George Hill. “We still have 20 games to fix it. But the fix has to come immediately.”