As a native Hoosier and lifelong fan of the Indiana Pacers, I can vividly remember when the club clawed out of oblivion in 1994 to become one of the "clutch" teams in the league, led by Reggie Miller. Unfortunately, the current edition of the Blue and Gold seems to be the complete antithesis of Larry Brown's crew from the 1990s, squandering what began as a promising season. The Pacers continued to tease us on their recent swing through the Western Conference, taking leads into halftime in games against the streaking Los Angeles Clippers, the middling Golden State Warriors, and the solid (though injury-stricken) Portland Trailblazers. What this trip has really cemented for me, though, is that the Pacers just can't finish games consistently, or at all, and that is a troubling sign as the first half of the season wraps up. There are a few potential reasons for the Pacers' inability to keep the throttle open for 48 minutes, but I think that they all point to head coach Jim O'Brien, directly or indirectly.
The first possibility for the Pacers' late-game struggles is that the team is simply running out of gas.
This could certainly be the case, especially when they're traipsing around three time-zones from home for an extended period. All the other NBA teams must also endure this coast-swapping during the season, though, and the best of them keep it together, at least well enough to avoid these extended swoons. O'Brien made much of the fact that he was pleased with his charges' conditioning last fall, so he needs to find out what's going on if the players are sucking wind. There is a lot of season left.
A second possible source of the Pacers' late-game trouble could be with the coach himself and his play-calling. O'Brien continues to lament the fact that this or that opposing player "really got hot" or that the team was focused too much time on one player to see what was happening with another. It's O'Brien's job to figure out the schemes to stem such tides, and it seems that he's been continually outmaneuvered by opposing benches. His continual tinkering with rotations also doesn't help team continuity or confidence
A third possibility is that the players are simply checking out mentally during the second half. This again would be an indictment of O'Brien, probably the strongest one of all
. It's hard for Pacers' fans to accept this scenario, especially with the group of "good guys" that we have in town now after the debacle of the last half-decade. Could Dannny Granger and company simply stop trying because they don't believe in the coach or are bored or confused by his system? Stranger things have happened.
In truth, the Pacers' struggles are probably a combination of all of these factors, and mor
e. No matter how you slice it, though, it seems that a hefty portion of the problem lies with O'Brien himself. With nearly half of this once-promising NBA season in the books, he has his team sitting as the East's ninth seed and fading fast, and the schedule doesn't get any easier. At least team President Larry Bird was on hand to witness this latest debacle, which will undoubtedly turn up the burners under O'Brien. O'Brien may not be fired this season, but he'll surely be feeling pressure from above.