by Wade of Both Teams Played Hard
Screw the semantics...I'm counting it. I mean, when your team has to barely hold off a borderline D-League team that hasn't won on the road all year in order to avoid its fifth straight loss at home, you need to grasp for all the positivity straws you can.
Meanwhile, Danny Granger's evolution into a full-fledged pimp is progressing very nicely. He was the story tonight for the Pacers, thriving with 21 second-half points after shaking off some early-game shooting woes on the path to victory (he had 35 total points along with 6 boards, 4 assists and 2 blocks). TJ Ford was also thankfully back to pre-injury form and looked to have most of his water-bug quickness back, allowing him to change the game by making things happen in the paint -- both by finishing some buckets himself and handing out some pretty dimes. Jarrett Jack unfortunately did come back to earth after last night's aberration against the Knicks, but he presumably had enough of his magic-enriched Wheaties left over to maintain his accuracy from distance by going 2-2 from three and 6-9 overall on the way to 13 points (not to mention a team-high +/- of 19). Troy and Marquis chipped in with their regular ho-hum solidness as well, and even Roy made the most of his 18 minutes, giving the team six players scoring in double figures.
We can go no further, however, without mentioning Kevin Martin, whose seven-three-pointer-fueled outburst can only be described as splendid. Far from merely a Kid N Play lookalike, he is also a Shogun assassin from deep and his frighteningly efficient 45 points were what kept this one close and launched a mano-a-mano shoot-out between every NBA pundit's two favorite underrated, long-range marksmen.
Apparently League Pass didn't get the memo about the 6:00 tip-off (nor is Stern putting new cover sheets on his TPS reports, I hear), but once the feed kicked in half-way through the first quarter, all I saw was K-Mart jumper, K-Mart for three, K-Mart pull-up jumper, K-Mart lay-up and K-Mart kissing your girlfriend. Truly, he was out of his mind.
Although in fairness, points came cheap for everyone in the first half once a uber-paced, defense-deficient game broke out (Indy led 68-67 at the break). Things tightened up in the 3rd and, even though it was probably more bad offense than good defense, the slowdown seemed to help the Pacers regain focus and begin taking care of the ball somewhat.
Then came Granger.
He really got going late in the third after following up an aggressive, pull-up jumper plus a foul with a Paul Piercesque, spinning drive through the lane that earned him reverse, lefty lay-up. Without hyperbole, I think it was the best drive to the hoop I've ever seen him take. For good measure, he also swatted a monster dunk attempt by Jason Thompson on the other end next time down the court.
Ultimately, however, this game was decided in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, during which -- and I know it's shocking to hear -- the Pacers began to unravel. The teams entered the final period tied at 89 and played sloppy yet high-octane ball that featured a momentum swing over to the Kings on the strength of some Bobby Jackson-circa-2002 nonsense and more Kevin Martin theatrics.
Indiana found themselves down six with three minutes to play. But after a driving bank shot by TJ plus a free-throw and a confident pull-up jumper from Danny, the ship was righted. Some knuckle-up team defense, two more buckets by TJ/Quis, and a bunch of Granger free throws later, the Pacers were up three and needed only to survive two missed threes by Martin to seal the win (the first one was a prayer but the second one from the corner looked good out of Martin's hand before barely eeking out).
Thus came the victory. And the two-game win "streak."
Even more important than the back-to-back Ws, however, was the slick mustard blazer that Dunleavy Jr. was rocking on the sidelines. For that, he gets the game ball.