Confusing Pacers season gets wackier as Jalen Smith fouls in closing seconds of a tied game
After their 12th loss in 15 games, I departed from The Fieldhouse with more questions than answers.
You may have arrived here thinking this story would be centered on Jalen Smith’s ill-timed foul with 14 seconds left of a tie game. But you would be wrong.
It’s bigger than that.
During the fourth quarter of the Pacers’ 127-124 loss to the Cavaliers, I wasn’t sure what I watching. At the postgame press conference, I continued to be stunned. Then I went home and watched it again, the lineups and how the Cavaliers continually carved up the Pacers’ defense and … I just don’t get it.
The last two months of the season are about player development, learning and evolving — and this was a setback. Nothing was gained other than draft positioning, which is all well and good. But I’m still baffled.
Maybe so was Smith, the newest Pacer who averaged 13.2 minutes per game with the Suns. On this night, he played the entire fourth and the most minutes of any bench player.
Put another way: A player who is unlikely to be retained contractually this offseason played a ton of minutes — more than rookie Isaiah Jackson (a part of the future) and Goga Bitadze (to boost his trade value).
Bitadze played the first 90 seconds in the fourth and Jackson, who started at center, played almost four minutes. But Smith and guard Malcolm Brogdon played the entire quarter and were the focus … which doesn’t seem like a wise idea.
Limited to just 18 minutes against the Cavs, Bitadze finished with 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists. He’s shooting confidently and without hesitation, trying to establish his presence on the court. I’m not a fan of plus-minus, particularly in a small sample size, but Carlisle often references it. Bitadze was +3 — on pace for 30 points and 18 rebounds in 36 minutes — Smith was -2 and Jackson was -3.
The Cavaliers kept calling for pick-and-rolls for All-Star guard Darius Garland, who went off for a career-high 41 points. Twenty-one of those points were scored in the final period; the Pacers scored 26.
“We just fell victim to a great player that we had a hard time getting under control all night,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “… That’s the last time we play them (this season), that’s the first time we’ve seen him. And I’ve seen enough after that.”