The Indiana Pacers secured a double-digit lead against the New Jersey Nets early in the fourth quarter on Saturday night and closed out the win from there with relative easy for a much needed 98-80 win.
I'm sure Jim O'Brien would vehemently disagree but I really enjoyed watching the fourth quarter without any tension or evil thoughts of a blown lead. Not this team, not against the Nets, not tonight. This game just played out differently than the frustrating losses to Phoenix and Cleveland as it appears the Pacers fed off that frustration to take care of business in the second half tonight.
The game began with yet another spectacular six minutes to open up the game for the Pacers. Aaannnd once again, the advantage withered away by early in the second quarter. The breakdown was a little different this time, though. The second unit actually kept the lead for the Pacers, showed some nice ball movement, didn't burp up too many possessions. The loss of the lead can be traced directly to missed 3-balls. Some good open looks too but the clanks became contagious. With 8:00 left in the second quarter the Pacers were 5-15 from three land.
The Pacers would continue shooting at that rate for the rest of the game, finishing with 11 treys on 33 hoists. Fortunately, the Pacers gave up relying on the home run ball and started taking the ball to the rack. In the second half the Blue and Gold made a concerted effort to attack the hoop for easy buckets or fouls. In doing so they doubled (22 FTAs) the amount of trips to the line compared to last night's loss.
While the offensive adjustments helped, the second half defense made the difference for the Pacers, literally killing the Nets' will. Both teams were playing in a back-to-back situation but the Nets showed it far more in the second half. They were settling for jumpers and their tired legs started mining plenty of front iron. JOB's efforts to condition his team can't be overlooked. Put that in the little things column that favored the Pacers tonight and made watching the fourth quarter that much more enjoyable. With a 15-point lead secured midway through the final quarter, the Nets' body language showed no signs of churning out a comeback. Game over.
Other items of interest:
- Danny Granger continued his early All-Star caliber play, finding a way to get it done even though his shot was sour. After clanking several 3-balls (he was 1-9 for the game) Danny spent the second half leading the charge to the bucket and the parade to the free throw line. On an off night, Danny was able to rack up 23 points with 6 rebounds and no turnovers. Gettin' it done.
- Troy Murphy deserves a proper amount of propers for his game Saturday night. He was one of the few Pacers to shoot it well, knocking down 4 of 7 from deep, but he also kept a few possessions alive on the glass and had a few real nice passes to keep the offense in motion as intended. Murph finished with 17 and 10 for his third double-double this year.
The Nets were without point guard Devin Harris who sprained an ankle Friday night after dumping in 38 points against Detroit. Since the Pacers were without two of their starters (Dunleavy, Rasho) it was nice to have an opponent missing some firepower as well.
Vince Carter made up for Harris' absence in the first half, finishing the with 20 points (31 for the game). He may not be Vinsanity any more but when he heats up Carter can score with the best of them. The semi-fade away rainbow jumper is as exquisite as it is unstoppable.
How about Jeff Foster? He too finished with a double-double (12 and 13) after "exploding" for 12 first half points.
The rookies continued to contribute in their role off the bench. Roy Hibbert picked up where he left off in Cleveland by attracting 5 fouls, but the biggun remains aggressive and willing to stick his nose into any play. Brandon Rush played key role early in the fourth quarter when JOB went small with Foster, Granger, Rush, Jack and Ford. That unit was able to run the Nets ragged and begin to put the game away.
Finally, a shout out to Justin Young, a Pacer fan from LA who flew in for the game tonight. Chris Denari highlighted Justin in the crowd with his Pacers hoodie and nice camera. Justin, if you're out there, I'd love to post some of those pics.