It’s difficult to get too excited about a team that trailed the Washington Wizards by 20 at half time. But it was a damn exciting finish. So we have to give these guys some credit for crawling their way back and executing on nearly every possession down the stretch to somehow scrape together an improbable 85-83 victory in DC.
There was absolutely no energy in the first quarter. This extended to the, by my estimate, 6,000 people in attendance but that’s no excuse. The Pacers got run out of the building in the opening minutes, allowing the Wizards to convert their first 7 shots, which came on 7 assists, as they piled up a 17-6 early lead. By the end of the first, that would be extended to a 34-18 margin.
The Wizards offense fell off a cliff in the second quarter but it was little help for a still-embarrassing Pacers attack that managed just 13 points in the period. At the half, they were down by 20. Again, this was against the Washington Wizards.
While such futility is pretty much inexcusable for a team that is billed as one that nobody will want to face in the playoffs (especially since they had the night before off), it did set the stage for some wonderful regular season theatrics.
Behind the team’s most dynamic weapon, Indiana reverted to the team we saw demoralize the Clippers the other night. Danny Granger dropped 11 of his 16 total points in the period. Roy Hibbert also started to realize he could have his way in the paint and started punishing Nene down low. The reserves checked in and things continued to roll. By continuing to thwart the Wizards sputtering offense and, finally, starting to score like they should against the Wizards, it was once again a game heading into the fourth.
And early in the final period is when the bench unit was at its best. Everyone chipped in on the scoring load as the backups turned a 9-point deficit to 2. Coach Frank Vogel then went back to the guys with the bigger paychecks. Let’s just say that was a good decision.
David West re-entered the game after having headed to the locker room early in the third quarter with a dislocated left pinky finger. He promptly stuck a jumper then stepped into a role where he would do all the little things for the rest of the game. Shortly thereafter, he make an expert entry pass to a perfectly positioned Hibbert, who caught the ball in motion spinning to his left and dropped a hook shot over Nene as easily as taking a coxinha from a baby. Hibbert made two more moves that were just as seamless to ensure his team, which was unraveling a bit on the other end and letting the Wizards score, could remain within striking distance.
The aforementioned unraveling was largely the fault of Paul George, who is usually the team’s best defensive wing. He stupidly fouled Jordan Crawford late in the shot clock rather than forcing him to take a tough, contested look. Then, on another play, he fell down and it led to a Nene dunk. When he missed an open three that, following a clutch drive by Granger to earn two free-throws, could have given the Pacers a lead, it looked like it just wasn’t George’s night. It seemed as though he was destined to be the weak link in the comeback that West, Granger and especially Hibbert were doing everything in their power to complete.
Until it seemed like not that at all.
George’s missed three-pointer bounced back toward him. West scooped it up. Seconds later, it was back in George’s hands in the exact same spot from which he had just missed. No defender even appeared to care that he had the ball and was open and squared up at the rim. He took one look around then gave a mental Kanye shrug as if to say, “if you’re gonna leave me this open …”
He let it fly and it hit all twine. Indiana was back on top by one.
Then Nene turned it over into the hands of Collison, who pulled it out and ran some clock. Indy finally got up a shot but missed. No matter. West back-tapped the ball back out. Collison again ended up with the ball and dribbled around, finally settling for a tough driving fadeaway. He missed. No matter. West back-tapped the ball out again and the Pacers had another offensive board.
By this point, starting from the George missed three, Indiana had had the ball on its offensive half of the court for more than 60 seconds. It was like a World Cup match between two teams of completely different skill levels. I’m sure I have seen extended possessions like this where the ball remains on one end for an unreasonably extended duration. But I can’t ever recall seeing it happen for this long in the closing seconds of a game. It was downright foolish. And it was almost entirely thanks to West, who continued to position himself just that much better, elevate just that much higher and backtap the missed shots out to his teammates. With a dislocated finger, remember.
Collison hit 1 of 2 free throws. Washington called timeout. They had the ball at halfcourt with 9 seconds to hit a game-tying — or game-winning — shot. John Wall got the ball. He stared down Paul George. He made a move that looked like a classic fake-drive, pull-up. But he didn’t. He actually tried to penetrate. But George retreated enough to stymy his advance. Wall pulled it back and looked like he would attempt a long two or — worse — scurry back behind the arc and attempt a game-winner. But George chased him back out, and Wall again pushed forward. He got some separation on a nice dribble move and pulled up from near the free-throw line. He let it go. He made it.
But it was too late. The ball didn’t leave his hand before the final buzzer. George had forced him to re-think his mode of attack enough times that there was no more time. In hitting the go-ahead three, and then playing some pretty top-notch defense on that final possession, George had redeemed his earlier follies.
And that there is a nice little microcosm for what the whole team did.
They should be embarrassed about the ghastly beginnings. But they should be proud about what they did when just one extra mistake would have meant a defeat.
|David West, 29 MIN | 6-10 FG | 4 REB | 4 AST | 3 STL | 13 PTS |
Dislocated his finger in the 3rd and headed to the locker room. Came back to hit a jumper in the 4th and grab 2 official and another unofficial offensive boards in the final minute. That’s Kobe stuff.
|Danny Granger, 5-12 FG | 5-5 FT | 4 REB | 3 AST | 16 PTS |
Dropped 11 pts (on 7 shots) in a 3rd quarter that saw Indiana chop 11 pts off the Wizards’ lead. And with Indy down 4 and 1:53 to go, he executed a set perfectly to earn 2 FTs and put his team within one Paul George trey of victory.
|Roy Hibbert, C 33 MIN | 8-14 FG | 3-6 FT | 9 REB | 19 PTS |
Just an absolute animal down the stretch. He kept Nene paralyzed on his back and dropped in 3 hook shots like nobody was even there in the waning minutes that kept the Pacers within striking distance.
|Darren Collison, PG 33 MIN | 2-7 FG | 4 REB | 5 AST | 6 PTS |
Not so good for most of the night. But he did continually track down the balls that West back-tapped. And he came up with the Nene turnover after George’s trey.
|Paul George, 4-9 FG | 4-4 FT | 5 REB | 3 AST | 4 STL | 13 PTS |
Was scuffling on defense late, stupidly fouling Jordan Crawford late in the clock on one possession and falling down on another. Then he hit that three. Then he kept John Wall from getting off a game-tying shot in time.
|Dahntay Jones, SG 14 MIN | 2-6 FG | 2 REB | 1 AST | 5 PTS |
Like pretty much everyone else: bad in the 1st half, excellent late. His corner three and another made jumper were instrumental in putting the Wizards against the ropes.
|Leandro Barbosa, SG 15 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1 REB | 1 AST | 2 PTS |
Didn’t do much in his second game as a Pacer. Other than hit one shot in a 4th quarter when Indiana needed every point they scored to win.
|Louis Amundson, C 12 MIN | 3-5 FG | 0-1 FT | 5 REB | 0 AST | 6 PTS |
Nothing special. Nothing alarming. Had a bucket during the comeback.
|George Hill, SG 18 MIN | 0-5 FG | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS |
Yikes on the stat line. But the reserves turned a 9-point deficit into 2 in the first 4:30 of the 4th and he was running that unit. So must have been doing something right.
|Tyler Hansbrough, PF 22 MIN | 0-2 FG | 5-6 FT | 5 REB | 5 PTS |
See Hill’s blurb. Got to the line, too.