The Pacers were up 6 on the Celtics when the fourth quarter started last night. After a disgusting, borderline-unwatchable, lockout-rust-tainted first half, both teams had gotten back on the track. Boston shot 11-for-20 in the third quarter and looked to be readying their late-game comeback attempt. The mostly dormant TD Banknorth Garden crowd had been brought alive each time one of the team’s perimeter Hall of Famers knocked down one of their 3 threes in the period. Rondo was dishing out assists all over the court and brought some additional passion to the game on two verbals exchanges with a ref, the second earning him a technical. Even Keyon Dooling was wowing the crowd off the bench, breaking out a slick “Rondo Fake” deception move on the way to a driving layup late in the quarter.
But the Pacers soon took complete control of the game. At the helm was AJ Price.
George Hill did the glory work, sticking three jumpers to extend Indiana’s lead to 13 just over 3 minutes into the final period. But it was AJ’s steady work as floor general, which sparked an 8-0 run, that keep the offense moving and creating good shots
Pacers captain Danny Granger, who watched all this from the bench, was impressed. ”I thought [Price] was the player of the game,” said Granger. “I call him the player of the game because he came in — he only made two free throws but he ran that team. He didn’t overdo anything. He made the right passes: George [Hill] was hot, so he got George the ball where he needed it to be. That’s what you need from a point guard: a facilitator. So AJ was the player of the game to me because that gave us the lead — the cushion — that we needed.”
After the game, Coach Frank Vogel also had praise for the third-year guard he has seldom-used this season. “AJ Price hasn’t played a relevant minute all year,” said Vogel. “With Lance [Stephenson]‘s injury, I always have confidence in AJ Price. He was our backup point guard last year, and he’s a heckuva basketball player. He led that second unit in terms of organizing our offense.”
Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star saw the same thing everyone in the Pacers locker room did. And he thinks this performance by Price proved enough that he should be ahead of Lance Stephenson in the rotation even when Born Ready’s ankle is ready.
“Price is just a better pure point guard. I feel like the Pacers are force-feeding Stephenson minutes when Price should be getting those minutes. … the second unit’s offense simply runs smoother when Price, who is called Juice by his teammates, is on the court.”
At this point, that’s hard to disagree with if you’re interested in the Pacers maximizing their chance to win every minute of every game. Few would argue that Stephenson has the higher ceiling of the two reserves guards — AJ probably tops out as a fringe NBA starter while Lance has the innate talent to be significantly better than that. But Lance has so far this season shown either signs of flash or inexperience, never the steady presence that AJ gave last night as the Pacers out-played the Celtics in Boston throughout the fourth quarter.