Just two nights after losing in Detroit due in large part to horrid foul shooting, the Pacers received some help from the Boston Celtics at the free-throw line. Rather than looking that gift horse in the mouth, the Pacers rode it to a 107-100 victory.
Playing against a banged-up team, the Pacers benefited from solid bench play and great showings from point guards Darren Collison (18 points on 8-of-9 shooting) and AJ Price (15 points in 20 minutes).
It was a night that both teams needed a win for different reasons. The Pacers, trying to hold off quickly closing Charlotte, began just one game ahead of the field for the 8th and final playoff spot. Boston needed help to catch Chicago for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The game was a Jekyll-and-Hyde night that encapsulated a Jekyll-and-Hyde season thus far.
Predictably enough, the Pacers got off to their typical slow start. With five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Indiana trailed 22-12 due mainly to an inability to control Celtics star Rajon Rondo. Rondo was doing anything and everything he wanted to such a degree that, at the time, it seemed as though Collison would be incapable of redeeming himself for the poor defense he was playing.
With Boston shooting lights out in the opening period, Roy Hibbert kept Indiana within striking distance. Throw in a Price buzzer-beater as the quarter expired and the lead was cut to a manageable six at 33-27.
Enter the Bench Brigade.
Led by Price, Dahntay Jones, and the sharp-shooting Brandon Rush, the second string turned the 6-point deficit to a 5-point surplus in just 5 minutes. The starters capitalized off this energy. By halftime, Indiana had shot 60% and gotten 19 points from Roy Hibbert, who simply out-classed whoever Doc Rivers threw at the big fella (including Nenad Krstic, Big Baby Davis and even Jeff Green). The good guys led by 8.
The third quarter was the opposite story. Teams began trading baskets to start the half, the kind of back-and-forth against a superior team that makes conditioned Pacers fans ask “How long can this last?”
As it turns out, not very long. A 16-6 Boston run put the Celtics up by 2 midway through the period. But the Pacers weathered the storm.
Needing an impetus at the beginning of the final quarter, the Pacers responded to a Boston drought by going on a 7-0 run to grab a 3-point lead. Sloppy play and turnovers (I consider a jump shot by Josh McRoberts to be a turnover and am currently drafting up a proposal to the commissioner on the subject) prohibited the Pacers from stretching that lead any further. (I joke, but despite what the box score may tell you, McRoberts played very well, making several nice passes that led to buckets in the second half.)
The most surprising aspect of the game came with the Pacers new-found lead dwindling. With his team down one, Ray Allen went to the line for an automatic pair.
Then Allen missed his first foul shot since the Eisenhower administration, Indiana notched three quick buckets in under a minute, and the usually reliable Kevin Garnett shot off on a couple more free throws. Collison was at the center of the Pacers attack, hitting four big buckets late including a pull-up jumper, a steal/dunk alone in transition and a driving layup at the rim (on which he might have also gotten fouled).
Another big hoop by Hibbert, who had 26 on the night on 12-for-17 shooting, put the Pacers up 8. Whenever Indiana opened the door up for a potential Celtic comeback in the final 4 minutes, Boston was uncharacteristically quick to give the ball back.
On a night when they really needed a win — particularly with the Bobcats winning a thriller over the Bucks — the Pacers got it. With 9 games left and a 1-game cushion for the last playoff spot, nothing else matters.
- Can we stop calling Pierce, Garnett and Allen The Big Three, please? None of them are currently the best player on their own team, and none of them even had the best career of all players currently on the team.
- James Posey stands farther away from the team huddle than TV sideline reporter Stacey Paetz