It was a tale of two halves. And by that, I mean they played two halves of basketball. Twenty-four minutes each, which combined was roughly 45 minutes more than anyone watching should have been watching.
The last couple were interesting. I’ll give the game that. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were good basketball by any means, but true to the calendar heading under which they were played, there was a decidedly March Madness vibe: scrappy, unpredictable and full of weird things that really shouldn’t be happening when two teams are playing high-level hoops.
Case in point: Sasha Vujacic hit 3 three-pointers in the final 3 minutes. Sundiata Gaines, who dropped a career-high 18 points on 11 shots, hit another. They watched an 11-point lead dissolve and while, sure, Sasha was in a zone, it really should not be that hard to make those desperation comeback shots a little more difficult given how poorly the Nets usually create open looks.
But while the Pacers almost coughed up the game in the final minutes, they won it in the third quarter, outscoring New Jersey 29-17 and holding them to 24.1% shooting (7-for-29). Danny Granger — finally — rediscovered his shooting stroke, making 2 of this 3 shots in the quarter and adding a few points at the line. Granger added 10 more in the fourth to give the captain 17 points in the second half. This was especially nice to see for Pacers fans considering that Danny missed his first 6 shots of the game, which at the time meant he had bottomed out at 14 for his last 48 field goal attempts. That’s a 29.2% clip over nearly 14 quarters. He eventually hit one before the half, foreshadowing his strong second 24 minutes, but when the team’s primary scorer comes out so flat and the entire team follows suit by managing a mere 15 points in the first quarter, there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of urgency to make it to this whole postseason thing.
Good work pulling away in the third and then not completely shooting yourself in the foot late, but, really, more than 70 games into the season this is more troubling than anything.
Looking back to the game’s beginning, there was very little quality basketball being played by Indiana, or New Jersey honestly, in the first two quarters. Vujacic was causing problems for the Pacers for one stretch early as well. That bad. Then Sudiata Gaines got in on the act. Kris Humphries was rebounding everything, snatching 10 boards off the window, including 3 on the offensive end.
It’s not like the Nets were doing anything spectacular. Indiana was just giving no resistance and certainly not putting forth the energy you would expect from a team in the Pacers’ position.
Defensively, Darren Collison spent much of the half much like he has spent much of the season: out of position. As Zach Lowe of SI’s The Point Forward noted, Dahntay Jones at one point left Anthony Morrow, a career 45.3% three-point shooter, to double Kris Humphries, a 34.5% shooter from between 10-15 feet this season, despite the fact that (a) Humphries wasn’t even in the paint, and (b) Tyler Hansbrough was in fine position to guard Humphries. And when guys weren’t doing things like leaving Morrow open for no real reason, Morrow stayed busy getting Paul George into foul trouble.
Really, the only thing that allowed Indiana to trail only 44-40 at the half was that the Nets are the Nets. They shot an ugly 1-for-9 from behind the arc in the first two quarters and it wasn’t as if there were any great defensive rotations or hard close-outs from the Pacers that caused the errant accuracy. Again, if the Nets weren’t the Nets, it could have been worse — and it was at one point when New Jersey was up 12 — given just how anemic indiana’s offense was.
The whole team shot an depressing-but-not-particularly-unusual 39.5% through the first two quarters, not to mention committing 9 turnovers, there was little proof of life early. It was starting to look like David Stern really should just let whichever deserving Western Conference team finishes 9th have the East’s final playoff spot.
I’m sure nearly every single player on this team is looking forward to playing in the playoffs — most for the first time — but at this point, watching a game like this, it’s hard to see anything but four blowouts happening when they get there.