The team never quit, they just weren't playing with quality strategy most of the time. Confused effort is often misidentified by fans as lack of effort. These guys have run back on defense and crashed for rebounds, they've just been doing it with almost no team coordination lately.
Lots of simplified offense other than TO/OOB plays* combined with guys looking confused on how to play away from the ball. This leads to lots of TOs as the ballhandler gets stuck with nowhere to go. Some of this might be new players but they were having these issues before Danny was traded.
I don't know if PG and Lance weren't running their part of the offense or if opponents started attacking our offense in new ways that created confusion. Some of it was Roy and Scola getting into slumps which cut off some key threats and allowed teams to cheat away, but it was more than that.
Of course the offense was never a fine-tuned machine so it was really the defense that was struggling and to me that was even more obviously a strategy issue. Teams knew Roy was the key so they started pulling him out in PnR better and also started running a lot more plays for pull up jumpers off other PnR that would neutralize Roy's ability to participate. Then more lately we've seen a lot of teams intentionally driving at Roy to draw him over to defend the rim, only to pass it behind him.
It's simple enough to except someone to help on Roy's man but when the play being run is explicitly positioning people to make that help damn near impossible without a serious strategy change then it can take awhile to figure out. I also noticed that the Pacers have been OVER HELPING with a lot of guys coming to stop the ball when a teammate already has it covered. That's not a lack of effort, it's misplaced effort.
I thought last night in the FIRST HALF they showed much smarter offense vs Detroit and somewhat better defense. Nearly all the Pistons run to push the score up was based explicitly on the much quicker Jennings (and Stuckey and even W Bynum) going right by Evan Turner when Hill came out. Even with Hill the Pistons would use Jennings/Stuckey to get ET into a mismatch and attack him. That ran off 8-10 points in a hurry and got everything out of control.
The solution to start the 3rd was PAUL GEORGE defended the ball, Jennings or Stuckey, and blew both of them right the f*** up. Several times he tipped their dribble away so it wasn't just a case of using his wingspan to stay in front of them, he was going Pippen on them. That brought Detroit's plan to attack Roy with midrange game or dump behinds to a halt because they couldn't get those plays started.
This was the first game in weeks that I felt good about and expected a Pacers comeback completely (and said so live on Twitter, not hindsight), explicitly because the Pacers had looked much more like their old selves where Detroit had just taken advantage of a situation that wasn't going to last. I suppose if Paul hadn't moved to Jennings/Stuckey (from Josh Smith btw) that might not have happened, but the "sic Paul on whomever is hot in the first half" has been a key halftime adjustment most of the year.
I think that the danger of repeating 2003 is passing thanks to Bynum, a super soft schedule and the fact that West is hitting his "carry the team" stride, similar to what he did for the first 2 months last season. West has a similar maturity to what Reggie brought in 2003 but is playing better ball now than Reggie was at that point, and that helps a ton.
Things aren't fixed, but the schedule allows for a few more weeks of identity searching. The fact that they seemed to find some sense of it even when as they were losing gives me a confidence I didn't have when they gimped by teams like the Bucks.
* it's really odd that Frank and the staff have such great OOB strategy but have/had been struggling to adjust to changes the last 4-6 weeks