There has been one overarching question since the Indiana Pacers (10-11) have experienced a renaissance in the last couple of seasons.
Who is going to score in the last five minutes of a tight game?
That question remains unanswered after the Pacers’ 104-93 loss on the road to the Oklahoma City Thunder (16-4) Sunday night. The Pacers went the final 5:25 without a field goal, shooting 0-for-8 and managing to register only two Paul George free throws in that time. Meanwhile, the Thunder went 4-for-7, leaning primarily on the Russell Westbrook’s scoring ability and Kevin Durant’s playmaking for teammates.
“They made shots late in the game and we didn’t make shots,” said Pacers point guard George Hill. “We have to figure out how to close games.”
The Pacers’ philosophy of ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is solid against some teams, but against the NBA’s elite, it has not produced consistent success. Indiana still lacks that one go-to scorer down the stretch of games that Head Coach Frank Vogel can give the ball to and be confident something good will happen.
The player closest to that mold is David West, but that’s usually dependent upon the match-up he has on a certain night. Pacers fans want George to be that guy, but he has yet to prove he is capable of handling such a load. One thing is certain: Roy Hibbert is definitely not the answer right now. He’s certainly paid like he should be the answer (average salary $14.5 million the next four years), but he’s also shooting less than 40 percent this season because he can’t seem to finish around the rim–not quite the distinction you want as a 7’2” player.
Maybe it all changes when Danny Granger comes back from knee injury, maybe it doesn’t. But if the Pacers don’t find some way to win close games until Granger comes back, their season will continue to be as average as their under .500 record suggest it is.
Follow Jay Neal on Twitter @JayNilla