Danny Granger capped a big night for the Pacers with his game winner (Frank McGrath/Pacers).
Just when it was beginning to appear that everyone on the Indiana Pacers except for Tyler Hansbrough had forgotten how to play basketball, the team turned things around and beat the New York Knicks back-to-back. Sunday’s 106-93 win was impressive. Hansbrough continued his recent tear by scoring a career-high 29 points and the Pacers dominated the Knicks throughout the game for a 13-point victory. The problem with the game was that it led to more questions than answers since the team appeared to play much better without Danny Granger, who was out with the flu and strep throat.
Tuesday night’s 119-117 win was more impressive because the Knicks came to play. Granger returned to the lineup and he, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert all came to play as well. Granger hit a sweet game winner with 0.3 seconds left, while Collison and Hibbert contributed numerous big baskets down the stretch. Granger ended up with 26 points, Collison 24 and Hibbert 15. It was nice to finally see the big three actually play well at the same time.
It was a nice redemption for all three players.
Granger had struggled mightily in recent games and his jump shot seemed to clang off the rim with such regularity, that the team just appeared to be much more settled without him Sunday. He attacked the Knicks by using dribble penetration and was particularly effective compared with his passive jump shooting of recent contests. Could the buzzer-beater be the ticket for a late season flourish?
Collison couldn’t buy an assist or a basket in several recent contests and the Granger and Hibbert struggles only exacerbated the problems. This is a young player that should be viewed along with Hansbrough and Paul George as a key component that will continue to grow for the future. Too often this season, Collison has been looked at as some sort of failed savior, which was too much pressure to put on a guy who had only 37 starts as a rookie last year.
Hibbert had come up so small that one was left wondering if he could ever regain his form. On Tuesday it all came right. When the team needed him most he responded with big buckets late. He had also played well on Sunday, so maybe he’s beginning to get out of his funk. The Pacers need their center to be effective down the stretch.
Surprisingly, in spite of these good performances, none of the big three led the Pacers in scoring against the Knicks.
That honor again went to Hansbrough, who followed up his career-high on Sunday with another on Tuesday, scoring 30 points. In fact, many of the good looks other Pacers were getting late in the game were made possible because the Knicks had decided to overplay and even double-team Hansbrough late. The choice had been made that if the Knicks were going down to the Pacers again it wasn’t going to be because Hansbrough had open shots in the fourth quarter.
Hansbrough has become more and more efficient offensively in recent games. Earlier in the season it was obvious that if he could hit his jump shot consistently he could really help this team. Now he’s hitting his jump shot consistently. Combine that with his ability to draw fouls and make awkward looking shots in the lane and you’ve got one unorthodox, but highly effective, offensive weapon.
The numbers over the past five games tell the story, with a 25.2 points per game average. In short, the qualifiers are over, five games is a trend and Hansbrough’s been terrific throughout this stretch.
In fact, this stretch reminded many of his play at North Carolina, where he was a dominant college player for four years. Most pundits said Hansbrough’s game would never translate to the NBA, which is why someone with his pedigree ended up being only the 13th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. When he sat out most of his rookie season with vertigo, the chorus of critics grew only louder.
The critics were wrong. The guy is a player. His game has translated to the NBA better than the Pacers could have hoped for. He should be a key building block for the future of this franchise.
Now, if the Pacers can get Granger, Collison and Hibbert to play well consistently with Hansbrough, then you’ve got something.
Unfortunately, this is the same team that looked so dreadful in their recent six-game losing streak, capped by lifeless losses at Minnesota and Toronto. They have proven untrustworthy at best.
Three weeks ago, Frank Vogel looked like a genius. Three days ago, Vogel looked like he couldn’t coach his way out of a paper box. Now the pendulum has swung again. It’s the same maddening inconsistency that we saw under Jim O’Brien. It’s hard to believe that coaching is the issue.
Who is this team? How can they look so bad against the dregs of the league, yet beat Miami and L.A.? If I had an easy answer, I’d be the first one to volunteer it.
Maybe the Knicks are just a good matchup for the Pacers. They aren’t interested in playing any defense and that makes it easier on the Pacers. The only real defensive intensity over the past two games from the Knicks came when they decided that Hansbrough wasn’t going to beat them singlehandedly at the end of the game.
You want defense. It’s probably going to be a lot tougher Wednesday night in Boston.
Hansbrough is going to have a target on his back. Granger won’t get many open looks. Hibbert will have to be able to play getting bumped regularly. Collison won’t find a lot of open driving lanes. It will be critical to defend merely to stay in the game.
Last week I called this team soft. Two good wins over the Knicks has done nothing to change my opinion. If the Pacers beat the Celtics, I’ll be impressed.