Game #56 Recap: Hellish Hansbrough Helps Pacers Escape Meltdown

In a league where superstars demand trades, teams ship franchise point guards midseason and the face of the league stabs his own sports-tortured home (Et tu, brute?) on an ESPN special, there aren’t a whole lot of truths in the NBA. We do know one thing for sure: Tyler Hansbrough just plays hard.

On a night where all three stars were relative non-factors early, the bench brigade elevated the Pacers early. Led by their commander Tyler Hansbrough, the reserves scored 24 of the Pacers’ first 38 points en route to accounting for two-thirds of the team’s first half points.

Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison eventually did make contributions (and large ones) down the stretch, but the second-year Hansbrough (“It’s like his rookie year!” they’ve repeated, ad nauseam, on the TV broadcasts) was the story of the night. His 21 points and 12 rebounds were huge, but Hansbrough’s non-statistics were even bigger.

Case and point: With the game tied at 95 and three minutes remaining, Hansbrough missed a jump shot only to launch himself into a crowded lane and tip the rebound to Granger, who nailed a three. All night long, Psycho T was after the ball like a hobo on a ham sandwich.

The club announced just an hour before game time that Mike Dunleavy was out indefinitely with a thumb injury (so much for an expiring contract trade for another piece). That coupled with Granger picking up two fouls before tip-off made the Pacers play left-handed.

The Pistons weren’t without their own woes either. Tayshaun Prince — the assassin that offed the Pacers a week ago — appeared hurt, apathetic or both early. In other words, he looked like the physical embodiment of the actual city of Detroit. His contributions were limited to zero points in nine minutes.

Tied at 16 with 2:15 remaining in the first quarter, a Hansbrough-infused tear to end the first quarter put the Pacers in the driver’s seat for the majority of the game. Benefitting from Vogel’s if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it rotations, a squad of castoffs and second-round picks put the Pistons on the ropes in the second and third quarters.

So frustrated was Detroit with its inability to handle the Pacers back-ups that Rodney Stuckey was called for a technical (great idea in a one-point game!) one play after Hansbrough’s persistence resulted in more second-chance points for Indiana.

Of course, the game wasn’t without its share of concerns. Such is professional basketball in a contest where the good guys needed an unlikely dunk from Brandon Rush (he is alive!) with five seconds left. Twice, the Pistons cut down on 16-point leads, Hibbert took only three shots from the field, and who the hell keeps giving Josh McRoberts the green light to shoot three-pointers?

Can Danny come out and play? Granger was big down the stretch with 11 points in the fourth quarter and a huge game-winning assist to the cutting Rush on the last offensive play. He, Hibbert and Collison will ultimately need to carry this team to the playoffs, however. Depth is great, but those who get the lion’s share of minutes need to be able to roar for most of the game.

Tyler Hansbrough just plays hard.

Tonight that was enough, but in a star-centered league, it won’t always be.

Non-game thoughts

  • Mike Dunleavy may be making $10 million (or exactly twice what Jamaal Tinsley is making to stay away) to sit on the bench for the foreseeable future, but his suit was fresh.
  • What is with the infatuation of Lance Stevenson? Local TV announcers Chris Denari and Quinn Buckner made his dressing for the game out to be a big leap forward in his career. Just send him to the D-League team in Fort Wayne and be done with it until next season.
  • Damon Bailey jersey sighting in the first quarter! Let’s not totally dismiss the idea that it could have been Bailey himself. I once saw a homeless man wearing a Drew Bledsoe New England Patriots jersey along the canal in Indianapolis and thought the same thing.

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