Beat the bad teams. That's what we've always wanted from the Indiana Pacers. It's great to topple an elite squad once in awhile, but last year's team seemed to always slouch to even their worst opponents' level.
Not this time.
The Pacers scored 64 first-half points and prevented a Warriors' fourth-quarter comeback to capture a 108-94 win at Conseco "Reggie Miller" Fieldhouse. The win puts the Pacers back at .500 in the early portion of the season, erasing the team's first three losses to put them at 3-3 heading into a showdown with the East's elite -- the Celtics -- on Saturday. The three-game winning streak matches the longest winning streak from last year when the Pacers won three in a row in early November.
This is what we said the Indiana Pacers needed to do this season to be in the playoffs: Beat the bad teams; jump out to big leads and keep them; Danny Granger needs to be a leader; and the role players need to step up when they're called upon. Consider them all checked off for at least one game.
Several things happened to get the team its third win of the young season. Granger found his All-Star swagger as he scored 31 points on 12-of-24 shooting, while also nabbing 16 rebounds. He was feisty, unafraid to drive the ball, and looked confident hitting the follow-through. As of yesterday, Granger was still touting how much the heel injury was still bothering him. That wasn't apparent tonight. Good to have you back, Danny.
Then there was Tyler Hansbrough. The rookie continues to be mesmerizing whenever he enters the game. I can't help but follow his every move. He is everywhere. Despite struggling with foul trouble and still limited by his mandated cap of 16 minutes, Hansbrough made the most of his minutes for the second straight game. His 11 points and eight rebounds don't begin to tell the story of how many banged-up bodies he caused on the Warriors' bench. He drew countless fouls on his opponents, jumped around like a jack rabbit in the post and, along with Earl Watson who filled in for T.J. Ford after he left the game with back spasms in the first quarter, provided starter-like playing off the bench.
Overall, the team looked good. The first half was extraordinary (the blue and gold built a 17-point lead at the half), and although they let the Warriors cut the lead to single-digits in the fourth, the Pacers didn't break down completely and give up. If this had been last year, the Pacers would have no doubt blown that lead. No doubt. Thanks to the defensive tenacity of Dahntay Jones, Roy Hibbert and Granger's intensity on offense and defense, it didn't happen. Don't get me wrong, I blacked out for about a minute when Monta Ellis slammed home a dunk to cut the lead to only nine with three minutes remaining. But, the team held strong and did something I wasn't sure it could do. It was like Derek Zoolander learning to turn left. Who knew?
Finally, the team is 3-3. To be fair, however, the combined record of the teams that beat the Pacers is a nice 17-5. The combined record of the teams that lost to the Pacers is an ugly 5-18. Still, the blue and gold is beating the bad teams and their defense, which has held the three opponents to an average of 90 points per game, is providing the backbone. That's a start. Saturday will be yet another test for this group. The Celtics visit the Fieldhouse.
- Welcome to the Dahntay Jones block party. The guard rose way above the crowd on four occasions tonight, a career high, to swat away some high-flying Warriors' shots. Two of them were obnoxiously high. The man has some real hops. And this also makes how many career-high's that Jones has set so far this season? Jones had a quiet 10 points tonight but his defensive presence was far from being all quiet on the western front.
- T.J. Ford only played four minutes tonight before heading to the locker room for the rest of the night. Back spasms were the cause. Ford looked good though during his brief playing time. He started right where he left off from his two sterling performances last week. He was dishing in the right places, setting up the offense and letting the game come to him while hitting 3-of-4 shots.
- In replace of Ford, Earl Watson stepped up to the plate and dominated at the point. He was efficient. He was an offensive threat. And he was a perimeter stopper. Really impressive. His stat line was 16 points, six boards and three dishes, but it doesn't sum up how he is just nonchalantly walked in for the injured Ford and ran the team with ease. Jarrett Jack, who?
- Shooting slump? What slump? The Warriors are prone to give opponents wide-open looks beyond the arc and it happened frequently tonight. Luckily, for the first time this year, the Pacers knocked down those shots like a real NBA team. The blue and gold launched 14 (Granger took half of them) and make 50 percent. Hey, it's a start.
- Roy Hibbert. Another near double-double (16 points, nine boards). Another team-leading +/- total (+20). Although he picked up five fouls, including two early on that sent him to the bench for an early showcase of Solomon Jones, Hibbert looked good...again. Not only was he looking active all over the court, but when he got to the free-throw line, he was more Reggie Miller than Dale Davis going 6-of-7 from the charity stripe.
- Granger showed some intense emotion late in the game when the Warriors were busy mounting their unsuccessful comeback. Granger got into a spat with Anthony Randolph under the basket that was less WWE and more O'Reilly Factor, but it still got the juices flowing and helped the team regain its intensity during the final minutes. Granger is trying to figure out this leadership thing, and the argument was perfectly timed and executed. If you told me it was staged, I wouldn't be surprised. Sometimes you just gotta get into somebody's face. That was one of those times.
Luther Head and A.J. Price received some extended time due to Ford's injury. And...well...let's move on. They combined for three points and three assists. There were some OK moments for the both of them, and not-so-good, and they were fairly uneventful. Moving on.
- Stephen Jackson. As much as my cousin would like me to not mention the ex-Pacers player, I need to do it. He was booed routinely this evening by the Fieldhouse crowd, but Jackson even made that difficult as he played only 18 minutes and scored only seven points. Mike Wells re-tweeted the Warriors' beat writer during the game saying that Jackson was not sitting because of any injury.
- Coach Jim O'Brien stated that Troy Murphy could be available for Saturday's showdown with the Celtics.