The Indiana Pacers know who they are — balanced and unselfish. They also fight. Down by 13 in the first quarter Sunday they come out in the second quarter throwing haymakers (and shoot 67 percent). Break Roy Hibbert’s nose and he’ll come back in the fourth quarter and give you eight points with the game on the line.
The Lakers could really use some of that fight. They are lacking it right now. It’s why Indiana won 98-96.
Los Angeles has one guy who fights back, but with the other Lakers standing around you end up with an avalanche of Kobe Bryant shots. He scores 33 against the Pacers, but it takes him 30 shots to get there.
There are guys on this roster that won back-to-back titles a couple years ago — and you don’t do that without a lot of fight in you. But with all the changes to the franchise and roster that fire seems to have washed away that fight. You see the fire in flashes, like against Dallas last week (when Derek Fisher won it on a late three) but more nights they seem to take the punches and not jab back. Personnel and age is part of that, but the Lakers are still trying to find their identity on offense and with that they seem to stop and think, or freeze, and not push back.
The Lakers came out hot Sunday night and that was pushed by Kobe, who had 11 points in the first. But it was contagious — Matt Barnes was getting breakaways, Pau Gasol was playing facilitator (he finished with 9 assists) and the Lakers had real energy. They were up 13 and it looked like they might cruise.
Then in the second quarter the Pacers started to come back — they shot 67 percent and behind nine points from David West (including a late three) that made this a game. That carried over in the second half, but what makes them tough to defend is the balance — six guys in double figures, Hibbert had the most with 18.
This may have been the best the Pacers have played this season (to my eyes). This is a win that should shut up anyone who has been questioning these Pacers credentials — they are good. Legitimately good. Not challenging Chicago and Miami on top of the East, but in the next tier. And they are going to be a tough out come the playoffs.
The Lakers, they show flashes of being very good and of what they can be, but it’s not consistent. Put together a strong quarter to come back like the Pacers did and the Lakers seem to become sluggish. Andrew Bynum maybe most of all, he seemed slow in this game. Almost disinterested. Metta World Peace had a good game Sunday, but he has been inconsistent.
The result is a team that expects Kobe to create everything. Part of it is personnel — they don’t have a lot of guys who can create, so it falls to Kobe — but Bynum and Gasol are not demanding the ball and attacking. Derek Fisher will not back down, but he is not a guy who should be playing huge minutes.
All that manifested in the final minutes of this game, when Indiana went on a 7-0 run as they knew Kobe would be all the Lakers offense, while the Lakers had no idea who to defend on the Pacers because everybody was making plays.
The Pacers are playing about as well as they can, and they are winning because of it. The Lakers may have a higher ceiling, but they are going to have to figure out how to reach it.