Last night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Indiana Pacers turned in a very strong performance to beat one of the best teams — if not the best team — in the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder. While dominant for two and a half quarters, the Pacers had to withstand a sublime performance by Kevin Durant and a furious comeback by the Thunder.
Withstand it they did, and it was largely thanks to yet another great fourth-quarter performance by Danny Granger. “The Captain” — as he is called in pre-game introductions — delivered 13 points and grabbed 3 offensive rebounds in the final 12 minutes as Indy gutted out their 34th win of the season to open their lead for the third seed to a game-and-a-half.
Danny Granger delivering in the fourth is becoming a common occurrence these days. Overall, Granger is playing some of the best ball of his career. Consider these factoids obtained using stats provided by the NBA:
- Over the last five games, Granger is averaging 24.6 points per game on almost 54% shooting. If you look at the advanced statistics of effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and true shooting percentage (TS%), which take into account three pointers and overall scoring efficiency, his numbers are astronomical. His eFG% is .619, and his TS% is .656.
- Paring it down to just the fourth quarter is even more impressive. In his four fourth-quarter performances alone (he sat the entire 4th in the Washington blowout), he has averaged 11.5 points (translates to over 41 points on a per-36 minute basis) while shooting almost 70% in normal FG%. He has hit 7 of his 8 three-point attempts, and his eFG% is a positively jaw-dropping .848.
The question early in the season was, “What’s wrong with Danny Granger?” After a win in January where Danny played well, but drew a lot of front iron, I asked him he thought his legs weren’t as strong as he wanted or needed them to be. His basic response was that no, they weren’t, but in a compressed season, there was little to be done about it other than fight through it.
Before last night’s game, I caught up to Danny and asked him if his body felt better, or if he’d just adapted to the wear-and-tear. He opted to answer more about the mental than the physical:
“It was kind of a puzzle to figure out, because I really had to change the way I’ve played over most of my career,” said Granger before last night’s win. “You know, I’ve always been a gunner. I could go for 40 any given night, because I’m just going to get shots up. That’s the way I had to play to keep my teams in games.
“Just took me awhile to figure out, that right now, we have a lot of weapons. David West is a great low post scorer. Roy Hibbert. Paul George. Leandro Barbosa gives us a big punch. We’ve got so many weapons on this team, and I can pick my spots now, so it’s become easier for me.”
As Granger rattled off his teammates, a smile crept onto his face, and a gleam into his eye. There’s an audible chuckle of joy when he says, “We’ve got so many weapons on this team …” I followed up by saying it must be nice to look around the locker room, and see playoff-tested veterans like West, Barbosa, and George Hill, and was met by an even bigger smile from Granger as he nodded his head emphatically, and said, “Yes, it’s so very encouraging for our team.”
I’ve long believed that players are judged at the intersection of three things: what they can do, what they can’t do, and what you need them to do. This last one profoundly alters the perception of almost all players, mostly to their detriment. Danny’s game and role are approaching the point where the three intersect, and there was an almost palpable feeling of mixed joy and relief as Granger talked about his evolving situation.
That feeling should be shared throughout Pacerland. The Pacers certainly feel it. Coach Frank Vogel said before the Boston game, “We felt all along that when our offense was doing pretty well this year, we were doing pretty well as a team with Danny Granger was not playing at a high level. We always felt like when he started to play at a high level, we would really be dangerous. And that’s what we’re starting to see.”
Danny Granger is playing at a very high level, and as long as that’s true, the Pacers are very, very dangerous.