Post-Game Grades: West's Heroics, Hill's Game Winner Lift Pacers Over Raptors 90-88 in Season Opener

I suppose the only downside is that this might be the best Pacers’ game of the year. Oh, they will certainly play better. (Let’s hope so anyway. It’s gonna be a loooong season covering such slop otherwise.) But in terms of excitement, drama and good times, this was about as good as it gets on the opening night for most of the National Basketball Association.

The Pacers seemed in control early before the turnovers multiplied and the defensive rotations disappeared. Time after time, drivers and cutters got to the secondary defender only to make a simple interior pass that checkmated the rim. Or worse, the Pacers allowed easy looks from behind the arc that allowed Toronto’s point guards to build confidence and energize an, at times, raucous crowd.

Fortunately, the Raptors couldn’t make much of anything, hitting just 33-of-91 (36.3%) from the field and failing to fully exploit their 24 offensive rebounds or the Pacers’ 18 turnovers (5 in the first quarter, 6 in the second, 6 in the third, 1 in the fourth). Regardless, Indiana’s third-quarter offense became so ineffective that Toronto was able to quickly build a double-digit lead anyway.

And as they did, there was David West, lurking with the potential energy of the Yellowstone Caldera supervolcano. He scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, including 14 of the team’s final 20 points. That’s impressive enough on its own and the team needed every one of his buckets to complete its comeback win. But it was more the way he went about it. It was like there was no real question that he needed to be the one to take over. Part of this was naturally the matchups: when you see a steam shovel like West being “contained” by the chain link fence that is Andrea Bargnani, you get him the ball. Sometimes professional basketball is as strategically simple as the two-on-two games played in driveways across America everyday. Just find out which of your opponents is the most outmatched physically and give the guy he is guarding the ball every time it until it stops working.

West was more than happy to oblige and he took it upon himself to make sure the deficit was dwindling as the clock did. For a few minutes in the fourth quarter, he and Paul George looked like they had been playing together since grade school. It’s been a while and the cobwebs build up more quickly in my head than they used to, but I can’t recall seeing them have that type of chemistry before. They ran a two-man game with such precise timing and unspoken communication that West was not only getting makable looks out of well-orchestrated pick-and-rolls or post-ups fueled by excellent entry passes, he was on occasion getting comically easy shots for him to knock down. Again, some of this was the Raptors keystone cops defense. But there was also something there that I haven’t seen before, with West slipping screens that George knew he was slip and battling for position then finding the ball hitting him right in the exact location to allow him to face up and punish his defender.

As aggressive and impressive as West was in making shots from his favorite spots on the floor, it was also great to see him still make the correct decisions rather than force up (makable) shots. The proverbial heat check is rampant throughout the league to a degree that sometimes makes you feel that guys like Nick Young and JR Smith are helpless addicts whose only real incentive to make a few shots is the knowledge that they will be launch one, or two or, god-willing, three more without anyone being able to deservedly give them the stink eye. It’s like those times I catch myself taking bite after bite of pizza without even tasting it just because some deep-rooted primal instinct in my brain is pleading with me to get to eating the goddamn next slice already before some buzzard swoops down and steals my prize kill.

Sucks to your buzzards, said West. Catching the ball in the middle of the lane, having just made five of his last six shots and with his team down six as time winds down, he drew a double. He could have shot. Perhaps he should have shot. He was five feet from the hoop and shooting the lights out. But he was surrounded and George Hill was wasn’t, standing in the corner, maintaining disciplined spacing and ready to shoot a wide-open three from the sideline — the most effective shot in the NBA that isn’t a layup or a free throw.

West kicked it out. Hill caught a well-intentioned but inaccurate pass, regathered and knocked down the shot. 86-83. The Pacers were now in a one-possession game and had three minutes to figure out how to win. Easy enough. West hit two more jumpers (one after an especially comical Raptors decision to leave West wide open in favor of doubling Hill as he dribbled, 19 feet from the hoop, over the top of a pick-and-roll). Then he was faced with a near-identical situation to the last time he kicked to Hill in the corner. The score was tied 88-88 and even muscling to earn a free throw rather than shooting a short, floating jumper would have likely put him on the line and put his team ahead.

Instead, he made the same decision. This time Hill missed.

By some fate of fortune, Indiana retained possession as the ball (perhaps) went off a Raptor player out of bounds. They had 22 seconds to run one play to break an 88-88 tie. They did. It was this. Ball game. Pacers win.

Does any of this mean anything? Probably not. But it was nice to see the Paul George/West dynamic that the team may be able to build off and even better, or perhaps just different, to see a guy shooting as well as West decide to dish the ball to the open guy, twice, late in the game instead of take every shot in a game when he had earned every right to take every shot.

Here is how each guy played individually tonight. Agree? Disagree? Express your thoughts below in the comments or yell at me (@8pts9secs) or Tim (@TimDonahue8p9s) on Twitter.

David West – 28 MIN | 25 PTS (12/19 FG)| 2 REB | 1 AST 
Tonight, David West was Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhies, all the walkers from The Walking Dead, Luke Skywalker, the Scream guy, The Scream by Edvard Munch, Ash’s right hand, every zombie from 28 Days Later, the Cuban missiles from Thirteen Days, The Day After Tomorrow, and Gandhi. From Gandhi.
Paul George - 35 MIN | 14 PTS (7/15 FG) | 15 REB | 5 AST | 5 TO
Scored 9 first quarter points and gave 38 minutes, but once the adrenaline wore off, he was clearly hobbled. I watched him closely in the first quarter, and he clearly would have to gather himself to make plays. After a while, the tank ran dry.
Roy Hibbert - 29 MIN | 14 PTS (6/13 FG) | 9 REB | 5 BLK
Joined Paul George in the strong start club and had the type of game that Pacers’ fans have come to expect: often dominant, sometimes invisible. On offense anyway. The difference between now and two years ago is that he also controlled the paint with all those blocks and rebounded fine.
George Hill - 33 MIN | 8 PTS (7/13) | 7 AST | 0 TO
Didn’t have the best game most of the evening but that doesn’t matter. He totally redeemed himself with a huge corner three and the game-winning floater with 2.1 seconds left and the game tied.
Gerald Green - 27 MIN | 6 PTS (2/7) | 2 REB | 2 AST | 6 TO
He’ll get better. His range was nice though, hitting two treys. Although he passed up another one, something that was emblematic of a night where he looked a little out of his element.

DJ Augustin – 15 MIN | 5 PT (1/4 FG, 1/1 3PT) | 2 AST | 2 TO
He had a few nice sequences, getting to the line with savvy and being aggressive in the open court. But he led a bench unit that was sloppy and overmatched. He’ll get better.
Ian Mahinmi – 19 MIN | 1 PT (0/1 FG, 1/2 FT) | 5 REB | 2 BLK | 4 TO
Yikes. He’ll get better? But he did make one really nice block when he was the only reserve out there with the four other starters at a time when the team couldn’t afford any mistakes. Set a few nice picks.
Lance Stephenson – 13 MIN | 5 PT (2/3 FG) | 4 REB | 0 TO
Really good production in limited time, but there were some issues. Hit a three, which was weird. He could get better.
Tyler Hansbrough – 20 MIN | 8 PT (2/5 FG, 4/4 FT) | 3 REB | 1 AST
The assist was a nice surprise while the lack of rebounding was not. Typical good Tyler though, as he forced the issue, got to the line, made people uncomfortable, hit a lefty layup and was effective enough freelancing without taking much away from the offensive flow.
Sam Young - 11 MIN | 4 PT (2/2 FG) | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 TO
Nice little debut. Needs to work on some stuff but showed some good hoops instincts with a tip in and a few headsy defensive displays.

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