The fact that I felt the need to include the year in the post title tells us all we need to know about how desperate the Pacers were for this one. They certainly out-played the Sixes in Philly but still nearly found a way to cough the game up before making their final five shots (not to mention their last eight free throws) to put it away 111-103. Considering that prior to going flawless from the field and the line in the final 4:33 the Pacers were down 94-92, this was arguably the team’s best crunch time performance of the year.
And … GOOD LORD … did they need it.
Even back when Indiana was playing good basketball (if you can remember that long ago), it was obvious that this current stretch of the schedule was going to be rough. Philadelphia was in the middle of a five-game stint of contests against the Spurs, Hawks, Sixers, Mavericks and Bulls. After that gauntlet, they immediately head out West for a four-game road trip. Then their homecoming gift is a showdown with the Magic.
All in all, wins were going to be tough for the better part of January.
So every victory right now is a big one. And with the team looking as hopeless and frustrated as it has for the past few weeks, it was a must to gain a little confidence in Philadelphia.
Perhaps they might coulda made that happen tonight. Maybe. (Note my certitude.)
Doing so required Darren Collison to play his best game as a Pacer. After having never recorded more than 7 assists in any of his first 30 games for Indiana and only twice scoring above 20 points, he did both — and then some — tonight. 21 points, 13 assists, 1 turnover and 3 steals for the point guard. Perhaps most importantly, his 8-for-15 shooting on the evening included a clutch, aggressive drive-and-pull-up-in-the-paint that put Indy up 101-99. And his perfect 5-for-5 shooting from the line included four freebies in the final 30 seconds. That’s what you need out of your floor general. As confused and frustrated as he has looked at times of late, let’s hope this is the performance he needs to help him realize that he is pretty damn good at this sport.
The best part of DC’s drive was that it came on the subsequent possession after Danny Granger (27 points, 7 dimes, 5 boards) was even more aggressive while scoring a hoop. If you have been watching the Pacers play this year, then you know that Danny all too often settles for jumpers late. Here, he took his ass down to the post, demanded the ball, made the catch, battled for position on the block, then broke off the back-to-the-basket stuff, dribbled across the lane and went up strong for a power lay-up on the other side of the rim. It was a wonderful move and something we have seen from him very few times. It was also similar, if less aesthetically jarring and miraculous, to the sweeping Mike Dunleavy Jr. skyhook a few minutes prior and the looooooong fadeaway jumphook from Roy Hibbert a few minutes later.
The guys just willed this one out. It sounds cliché, I know. But what else can you call all these big, unconventional buckets?
They didn’t go to something comfortable. (Shoot jumpers.) They didn’t go to something reliable. (Because that doesn’t exist in this offense.) They just made plays when they needed to make plays. I’m not sure many of the late buckets should give fans a ton of hope that this offense is any better than it was throughout December. Granger post-ups, Dunleavy Lew Alcindor impressions and Hibbert mid-range hookshots aren’t particularly replicable.
But they made em.
And perhaps what that may show us about their pride is more meaningful than what we already know about their offense.
I personally didn’t expect this offense to get fixed this year anyway. But I was starting to question whether or not these guys were ever going to start taking their embarrassingly play personally.
Tonight, even after they let a team back into a game that they should have put away earlier, when it mattered, they did what was needed.
For one game at least, that was enough.
Now if they can just find a way to knock off either Dallas or Chicago, perhaps this season on the brink may save itself from falling off the precipice for another week.
A few final notes:
- Tyler Hansbrough once again played pretty well as a starter, shooting 6/11 for 12 points to go along with 9 boards. Let’s stick with this, Jim O’Brien.
- Roy Hibbert was still gross. He hit that one big hookshot, but still just looked off out there. He did grab 8 rebounds in just 24 minutes, however, so … baby steps.
- IndyCornrows’ Tom Lewis made a good point: “JOB played that one like a Game 7, desperate for a win. Big minutes for Granger, Dunleavy, Collison.” I’m all for it.
- TJ Ford added 2 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers in 11 minutes, which combined with Collison gave the Pacers a total of 1 turnover. They only had 12 for the whole game (two of which came on Hansbrough charges in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter). For a squad that averages 14.9 per, that’ll work.
- I love me some Thad Young. Also love me some Marreese Speights. Larry Bird should trade for both of them. I’m not a GM, but I would offer James Posey and a lottery-protected second round pick. Who turns that down?
- Jeff Foster played rather excellently. I’ll let Nathan S. of IndyCornrows explain: “Jeff Foster had a season high ten points to go alongside his 8 rebounds. The most exciting play of the night were pick and rolls involving a running Jeff Foster for an easy bucket. Foster’s night was tremendous all night.” All night.