And just like that, Frank Vogel has the highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA history.
Aside from the second six minutes of the second quarter and all the turnovers and Danny Granger being unable to hit water from a boat, this victory over the Raptors was exactly what the Pacers needed. More than just winning, it was an attitude shift. I wasn’t at the game, but inside my television set, it appeared as though there was a near-palpable difference in the players’ attitudes. Roy Hibbert looked like a kid out there compared to the mopey, Eeyore-impersonating, rain-cloud carrier we have seen for much of the season. Paul George and Tyler Hansbrough played like confident veterans. Darren Collison seemed unshackled.
It was at times ugly, but the offense was free-flowing, which is rarely an adjective that I have used to describe this team over the past few seasons. 25 turnovers suggest that it was too free-flowing. And DC’s 6 turnovers suggest he could maybe use some shackles. But the team looked like they were having fun out there for the first time in a while, and they really looked to be making a concerted effort to share the ball, particularly by getting it to Roy in the deep post, a location from which he destroyed Toronto’s interior. There were a lot of cutters and a lot of interior passing. Again, there was too much and Danny, Darren and Roy all forced things, but like that paperweight your son made you for your birthday, it’s the thought that counts.
The transition defense was also notable. That’s one of those things that is all attitude and effort and the Pacers got back multiple times, breaking up at least three opportunities when they were outnumbered and back-pedaling. That’s saving 6 points. Pretty big deal.
Getting back to Roy’s low post work, look at his shot chart. You don’t get open directly under the hoop as often as he did tonight unless your are really busting your ass. He planted and backed down the Raptors’ “bigs.”
OK. Let’s not pretend this was a perfect game from Roy. He turned the ball over too much, was sloppy and awkward looking at time, and a couple of his early shots were very much of his now-patented “no-look hook” variety. But that’s just picking nits when we’re talking about a guy who had only had one double-double so far in 2011 before this evening. 24 points on 19 shots to go along with 11 boards and 2 blocks? Plus some tremendous interior defense on the same night that the opposition shot 41.3%? That will work, sir. Welcome back. I was starting to forgot why I ever thought you were good.
Speaking of someone who is good … Paul George.
This kid is just can just flat-out play basketball. I have been enjoying his play more and more of late, but the way he attacked the rim tonight and got to the line was just a joy to watch. I regularly criticize Granger when he doesn’t get into the lane, but ultimately, Danny is always going to be more of a shooter than anything else. He and I both know this. George, on the other hand, looks natural going north/south and trying to dunk on any fool silly enough to try to jump with him. His dribble moves don’t seem blinding in a Dwyane Wade sense or even spellbinding in a Paul Pierce sense, but particularly when he grabs a rebound or a loose ball and takes off up the court, it just looks right … if that makes any sense. He’s just smooth.
Between that, his rapidly improving defense and his ability to shoot from the mid-range (and hopefully further out), it is starting to seem inevitable that he will become the team’s starting two guard this. I suppose Vogel could stick with Mike Dunleavy, Jr. all year (provided he doesn’t get traded, which he very well might) and use George to buoy the second unit (something he has said he might do with Hansbrough), but considering that one of the stated reasons for getting rid of O’Brien was his unwillingness to play the young kids, I imagine Bird will put a little pressure on Vogel to make sure Paul keeps getting 25 mpg. Whether he starts or not is, I guess, academic, but I think it will happen eventually.
Speaking of guys who should start … Tyler Hansbrough, ladies and gentlemen. He played an excellent game on his first night back from pneumonia , hitting 6 of his 13 shots for 14 points in 16 minutes. He also added 6 boards. And his energy should be even more useful on a team that is no trying to re-assert itself as a squad that can beat any team in this league on any given night.
Another wrinkle added by Vogel was playing Dahntay Jones. I almost forgot he was on the team. I mean, he looked as mediocre as ever during his 10 minutes of court time, but it was interesting to see him, and not James Posey, head out there. Vogel has said that we will see less small ball going forward, so that makes you wonder whether or not we will see much Posey at all. With George deserving a lot of minutes on the wing and Lance Stephenson presumably getting a shot at the rotation at some point, there wouldn’t seem to be much time left for Posey. Similarly, AJ Price will likely remain the second point guard with TJ Ford only seeing the court due to injuries or foul trouble. I don’t think we will be seeing the TJ/AJ back court again anytime soon.
In the end, it was a very good win that the team now gets to bond over as they race to get away from the storm to get to Cleveland. And if you thought the Raptors was bad, wait until you see the Cavs. These guys are hilarious.
UPDATE: Here are two comments from John Rabjohns of the Indy Star reflecting what I expected: Vogel will probably keep a similar rotation to what we saw tonight. That’s fine by me. At one point seven minutes into the first quarter, I realized that the starters were still in. And then Vogel made a few substitutions and let those guys plays together for an extended stretch. It was so simple and so effective that I was wondering whether or not it was even allowed. It was like he was going out of his way to set a rotation and allow his players to become comfortable playing next to one another within established roles.
Odd, I know — but perhaps crazy enough that it might just work.