The Indiana Pacers started strong and looked like they might run away from the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. Instead the Pacers were run over by Amare Stoudemire and his easy 49 points, leading the Suns to a 113-103 win and replaying the Pacers' nightmare from last year when Amare came to town and dropped 42.
The Pacers seemed to be caught in awe of Amare throughout the second half. After scoring 38 first quarter points, the Pacers could only muster up 37 second HALF points. Jim O'Brien juggled lineups trying to find one that would work but the shots stopped falling and no one was able to step up and take over for the Pacers. Danny Granger and T.J. Ford both finished with 23 points, but did most of their damage in the first half.
Offensive woes aside, this was about Stoudemire making it look easy at the other end. Jim O'Brien and Dick Harter may want to re-emphasize their goal of protecting the paint because Amare was strolling down main street all night and forcing me to wince with his finishes.
Honestly, I'll stop heaping praise on Amare in a minute but just look at those numbers. 49 points on 17 of 21 FGs (including 11-12 in the paint) and 15 of 15 FTs. But that's not all, for this elite performance along with the 49 points, Amare threw in 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks at no extra charge.
The Suns are a big boy team and you have to appreciate the changes Terry Porter is implementing to strengthen their chances at playoff time. Gone is the run at all cost mentality, replaced with far more half court sets. They only run on turnovers or missed shots so defense is required if they want to run. After makes, the pace slows a bit which only makes sense when getting the ball in Stoudemire's hands on a night like tonight is a no brainer. The Suns have a real nice group of veteran players with the savvy to pick their spots AND feed the beast (Amare).
Now a few points about our boys in the blue and gold:
- This game was really a tale of two halves. The Pacers scored 66 first half points in part by making 9 of 12 3-balls. In the second half they missed all 13 attempts from behind the arc.
- Troy Murphy had four of those first half 3-balls to go to the break with 12 points. He didn't score again but did sneak in another double-double by grabbing 10 rebounds.
- Danny Granger tried to get it going late but it just wasn't in the cards tonight. Don't think he disappeared, that wasn't the case, he was just the focus of the Suns' defense which forced him into tough scoring situations.
- Too much Jack Daniels isn't healthy. Jarrett Jack and Marquis Daniels are great players and have a strong role on this team, but at the offensive end, moderation is key. Too many fourth quarter possessions ended with a missed shot or turnover from one of the two.
- The rooks were good at times and rookies at other times. Brandon Rush had his shots falling early, making a couple of sweet swooping floaters in the lane. He did miss a point-blank bunny in the second half which had Chris Denari speculating that as he develops Rush will dunk that ball. PLEASE. Still, Rush is so smooth getting to the bucket. Mmm, real fun to watch. Hibbert had his moments with a couple of great passes and rebounds. He still struggles to find his spot defensively.
- Travis Diener made his season debut in the first quarter and ended up playing about 8 minutes including a good stretch in the second half. He was even part of a little controversy after Stoudemire made a bucket and was heading the other way, Diener gave him a chicken wing as the two bumped into one another. Stoudemire proceeded to stagger a few steps before flopping on the floor into the baseline photogs as if Dwight Freeney had jacked him with a forearm shiver. The Amare acting effort drew a T for Diener and continued shifting the game's momentum to the Suns.
- The Pacers showed a level of confidence bordering on a full-fledged swapper during their monster first half led by T.J. Ford and Danny Granger. Once the lead slipped away so did the positive vibe.