Game #80 Recap: Pacers Starting to Look Like They Deserve to Play in the Postseason

On this site, we have generally — and rightfully so in my eyes, obviously — been critical of the way the Pacers have played down the stretch. They went on a six-game losing streak early in March. They pulled out of this tailspin with back-to-back wins over the Knicks and that was encouraging, but they looked very poor, both execution- and effort-wise, while being blown out by both the Celtics and the Grizzlies soon after. They looked just as bad, and perhaps worse, during much of a win over the Nets. Still, they had a huge win over the Bulls and smoked the Bobcats, their main competition for the final playoff spot in the East, so it was hard to overreact. Then they lost back-to-back games to the lowly Kings and Pistons.

At that point, this team was a such mess of inconsistency that looked to be still reeling from internal issues and general apathy — not to mention mediocre talent — that to expect anything more than this team limping into the playoffs like a sickly gazelle whose life would soon end at the hand of the lion that is Derrick Rose seemed foolish.

But now? This team is starting to resemble the theoretical incarnation of the Pacers that would have a “special end of the year,” according to Frank Vogel back in February after they got off to a good start under his watch. Let’s not go overboard: there has been nothing special about the past few months. The Pacers are 13-13 since the All-Star break. But after spanking the Hawks last night 114-102, they are now 5-1 in their past six games, which include an impressive win over the Celtics. Throw in the wins over New Jersey and Charlotte and they are 7-3 over their past 10.

Granted, the wins over Boston and Atlanta (which were without Josh Smith) are the only Ws I would consider impressive, but victories are victories and this is the way you want to look heading into the playoffs. If they can just split their final two vs. New York and in Orlando, that would go a long way to actually making the Bulls consider the Pacers a team they don’t really want to see in the playoffs.

Maybe I’m over-reacting to a little recent success. (I mean, they did get flattened by the Chris Paul express the other day and, at home, barely held off a Bucks team that shot 42.5%). But I now fully expect this team to get a win in a series against the Bulls and wouldn’t be shocked to see them take two.

Much of this is due to the re-emergence of Good Danny Granger.

He put up 28 points last night and is now shooting 49.1% in four April games. Perhaps more important than him shooting well, however, is where he is shooting from. Only 3 of his 18 shot attempts against the Hawks came from behind the three-point line. This is a nice trend and, in fact, he has only attempted more than 5 threes in a game once since March 21. By contrast, he took 6 or more 12 times during the 2010-11 Pacers doldrum days in December and January. (He perhaps not-so-coincidentally shot 37.7% and 43.5% from the floor in those months, respectively.) Additionally, this is all part of a season-long trend of cutting down on his favorite shot; Danny is shooting 2 fewer threes per night this year compared to last (5.1 three-point attempts per game instead of 7.1) and will finish the year with fewer taken per game than he has since 2007.

Mike Wells wrote about this increasing focus Danny Granger has had on scoring in the paint.

The scouting report on Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger has been pretty simple.

He has a tendency, scouts say, to become enamored with the jump shot, especially 3-pointers.

Granger is doing his best to shake that label now that the playoffs are a week away and the defensive intensity will go up to a different level.

On Friday, he mixed in drives to the basket, post-ups and an occasional jumper to score 28 points in the Pacers’ 114-102 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at Conseco Fieldhouse.

“I’m trying to be assertive because I do realize the playoffs are a different game,” Granger said. “Teams know your plays and everything. Sets don’t work as much. It comes down to who has the better players.”

Further adding to this is the fact that Granger is getting to the line more of late. He went 11 times last night, making 8. This comes on the heels of a 9 FTA game against Washington and gives Danny an 8.0 FTA average so far through 4 April games — which means he has increased his FTA per game average in each month of the NBA season (November: 4.7, December: 5.5, January: 5.8, February: 6.4, March: 6.8, April: 8.0).

That stat right there goes a long way to helping ease the fears that many, including myself, have had that Granger may never again re-discover the efficient scoring he displayed during his breakout 2008-09 season. Since then, he has undeniably developed some bad habits when it comes to shot-selection and consistently maintaining the discipline to penetrate into the lane. But the increasing willingness he has shown this year to get to the line as the hopes for the season have improved offer some encouragement that he may be able to get back to form within a better offense someday.

Moving on …

After last night’s game, I also got to say something I expected to be saying much more routinely this year: Danny Granger and Darren Collison both had excellent games. Part of the reason this hasn’t been the case more often is that DC just didn’t have a lot of great games in the first few months of the year. As we have discussed, he seemed shackled within Jim O’Brien’s offense in a way we no longer see. It wasn’t all the former coach’s fault though; he just was making poor decisions at times.

Regardless, Collison had his fourth double-digit assist game of the year last night. And it was the night after his third of the year. This also makes the 9th time in his last 16 games that he has recorded at least 7 assists. That might not be cause for celebration for many floor generals around the league, but it kinda is for a starting point guard in this league who is only averaging 5.1 dimes per night for the year.

Even better has been his scoring. He has double-figure points in each of his past six games, during which he is shooting a video-game-esque 70.7%. And it’s not like he is doing this on 3 shots a game; he is 41-for-58 during these last six games — five of which, remember, have been Pacers wins.

Lastly, recently we were talking about just how many wire-to-wire losses Indiana has this year. They had four in March, for example. A wire-to-wire loss is so disheartening because, in essence, the team basically never had a chance and, by definition, the team never had a lead.

Well, last night, the Pacers had a wire-to-wire win.

Sure, the Hawks don’t scare anyone anymore and Josh Smith wasn’t even playing. But that’s not the point. The Pacers are looking good late … that’s the point. And that was something few expected to see just a few short weeks ago.

Is that progress?

I think, by definition, it is.

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Tags: Atlanta Hawks Danny Granger Darren Collison Game Recap Josh Smith

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