Post-Game Grades: Pacers Edge Out a One-Point Win in Memphis


How about them Pacers? This one-point win in Memphis on MLK Day tied them with Miami for the most wins in the Eastern Conference (26). They remain in third, behind Miami and New York, since they have more losses, but this looks to be a completely different team from the one we saw early in the season.

This win was impressive for several reasons. I shall list a few.

1) It was a very balanced attack.

Nobody scored more than 14 points but six players had at least eight in what had to be one of the slowest-paced NBA games this season. (It was an estimated 85 possessions, according to Hoop Data.) Normally, in wins, the team has leaned heavily on either Paul George or David West, with the occasional late-game heroics of George Hill. This game was a much more varied mix of contributions with a steady diet of team defense.

2) They played up to the moment.

Indiana went to Memphis to play a early game on MLK Day in the town where Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Aside from the postseason and All-Star Weekend, the two biggest dates on the NBA calendar are Christmas and MLK Day. Before the game, players are asked big questions about civil rights and their place in history. It may seem a little canned after watching similar scenes play out each year, but it has to feel larger than the average game. On the court, this game also felt meaningful. It was a playoff-level atmosphere and a game that the Grizzlies really needed to win from a confidence standpoint.

3) They overcame late-game adversity.

The Grizzlies second-to-last possession seemingly went on forever. I haven’t seen anything like it in a late-game scenario since the Pacers did something similar to the Washington Wizards last year.

The Pacers played remarkable defense, rotating to shooters and blitzing ball-handlers. David West was everywhere, starting the play off with a (rare) gamble for a steal before recovering to the paint and, later, completely shutting down a driving lane after a Memphis pick-and-roll. Roy Hibbert guarded the rim like a rottweiler, thwarting both Tony Allen and Mike Conley from scoring in the paint. Paul George was his Mr. Fantastic self, extending his arm high into the sight line of Rudy Gay, who was left with no choice but to take (and miss) a bad, leaning shot over the contesting George.

Unfortunately, Indiana couldn’t ever corral the loose balls that resulted from the Grizzlies’ misses. Allen made a heads-up play to dislodge the ball from Hibbert’s grasp and found a wide-open Zach Randolph under the rim. It was a 47-second possession that Indiana covered perfectly for about 45 seconds. Asking for anything more, even of the NBA’s best defense, is a lofty request.

The game was then tied with just 10 seconds to play. In the past, this game would have been all but guaranteed to go to overtime. Remember back two years ago when the up-and-coming Pacers faced the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. The teams basically played to a standstill in almost every game, and then the Indiana offense wilted. There was never much hope they would come up with a big basket when they needed it, especially if the momentum had just swung the other way.

Against Memphis, George Hill had other ideas. The Pacers ran a strange, if effective play in which both David West and Paul George ran to the top of the key in what appeared to be a decoy double-ball screen on Hill’s defender. Either they were confused about where they were supposed to be on the court or, more likely, it was just a misdirection to clear out the whole right side of the court for Hill. Regardless, the Indianapolis native drove hard to the rim and either did or did not get fouled by Mike Conley. It was close and perhaps dubious so late in such a hard fought game, but no matter whether you think it was the right call, it was aggressive, good offense that gave the Pacers a good chance to end the game in regulation.

Hill knocked down one of two free throws, and Rudy Gay didn’t get off a last-chance heave in time on the other end. Again, it was oddly similar to the end of that Wizards’ game last season, when John Wall did the exact same thing: make a last-second shot on his home court only to have it waived off since it came after the horn. Another similarity: Excellent on-ball defense by Paul George forced the shooter to take too much time before putting up an attempt. He did this after playing every minute of the second half.

(In an unrelated, but similarly “overcoming adversity” way, the Pacers also won on the road against a playoff team despite committing 20 turnovers. I don’t have any stats on this, but I’m guessing that rarely happens in the NBA.)

4) Paul George made a big shot on the road.

If there is one legitimate reason that Paul George shouldn’t make the All-Star team, it is his home/road splits. They are ugly. In short, he has shot the ball sensationally at home (averaging 21.5 ppg on 48.1% shooting and 49.6% from long range) but proved unable to hit water from a boat on the road (13.8 ppg on 37.2% and 27.0%).

But with the Pacers down a point and under two minutes to play, George calmly cut to the wing to lose himself from a not-paying-attention Rudy Gay as David West penetrated the lane. George squared up, caught a perfect kick-out pass from West and knocked down a shot. It was obviously going in from the second he let it go.

You can almost tell at this point when his three will go in. As long as he is balanced, open and doesn’t float from side-to-side on his release, it’s usually cash. Gay gave him way too much daylight and George caught the ball with all the confidence in the world. Unless I’m forgetting something, that was the biggest shot Paul George has hit on the road this season.

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, PF 36 MIN | 7-16 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 3 AST | 3 STL | 5 BLK | 3 TO | 14 PTS | +1 

The blocks, late-game defense and kick-out assist to Paul George near the end were all nice to see.Paul George, SF 43 MIN | 5-13 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 9 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 12 PTS | -4 

Nearly added his name to the Pacers’ 2012-13 Triple Double club and played some suffocating defense. If he’s not an All-Star after the versatility he has shown—at both ends of the floor—against Memphis and Houston, I will be shocked.Roy Hibbert, C 33 MIN | 4-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 5 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL | 4 BLK | 2 TO | 10 PTS | -2 

Big fella started off the game making some shots and ended the game preventing Memphis from doing the same. Indiana will take that.George Hill, PG 33 MIN | 5-9 FG | 2-3 FT | 4 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 8 TO | 13 PTS | -2 

Earned a trip to the line for the game-winning FT and generally had a good all-around stat line. Gets a demerit for missing one of those two freebies though. If Rudy Gay understood how time works, the Pacers lose because of that miss.Lance Stephenson, SG 35 MIN | 3-7 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 1 STL | 1 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | +2 

Wasn’t much of a difference maker.

Tyler Hansbrough, PF 12 MIN | 4-5 FG | 1-1 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 9 PTS | 0 

That rebound.

 Gerald Green, SF 6 MIN | 0-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 0 PTS | -4 

Sometimes forget he is still on the team.Ian Mahinmi, C 15 MIN | 2-4 FG | 0-2 FT | 2 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 4 PTS | +3 

Didn’t do much. Defense was fine.D.J. Augustin, PG 15 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-1 FT | 0 REB | 3 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 6 PTS | +3 

Backup point guarding as backup point-guarding needs to be done. If you factor in how god awfully slow this game was, those six points seem like more. Like wind chill factor.Orlando Johnson, SG 12 MIN | 2-2 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 6 PTS | +8 

Looks like the Pacers bought themselves a nice little player. Had a few “calm down” moments, but that is par for the course with a rookie.Frank Vogel 

I’m still not sure exactly what happened on the Pacers’ final possession, but I liked it. And anyone who can get his team to play defense this well at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on a Monday deserves some credit.