With four minutes left in the game, a fan behind me screamed, "DEEE-FENSE!!!"
The fan was imploring Danny Granger to continue digging in on Chris Bosh as the Toronto Raptors' All-Star forward took the ball in the post. Granger met Bosh's move with a hard foul, much to the delight of the fan, "Yeah! I don't even care that he fouled him."
Certainly, Granger's effort on Bosh was better than anything the Pacers showed in the first half, when they gave up too many easy buckets that had the Raptors up by as many as 23 points in the second quarter. After the game, Jim O'Brien revealed that the Paces only challenged 28% of Toronto's shots in the first half, which made it easy for Toronto to amass 65 points on 53% from the field. Obviously, that was a point of emphasis at halftime.
Earl Watson set the defensive tone to in the second half. With the Pacers still down double-digits, Watons came up with consecutive steals, first on Jarrett Jack and then on Jose Calderon. Not only that, but the Pacers cashed both steals in for points at the other end and suddenly the game was on.
Once things tightened up at winning time in the fourth quarter, JOB went small with Danny Granger playing power forward and Troy Murphy at center. He also rode rookie A.J. Price down the stretch, initially running the point and then playing off the ball alongside Earl Watson. Small was the call, as the Pacers befuddled the Raptors for a 105-101 comeback win.
Everything the Pacers did in the second half worked and it was all fueled by defense. Granger seemed to relish his matchup with Bosh and made him work for every touch and point he could scrounge up, most at the free throw line. The small lineup was active defensively, keeping tabs on the other perimeter-oriented Raptors. Accorinding to JOB, the Pacers challenged 58% of Toronto's shots in the second half which he credits for the paltry shooting numbers put up by the visitors. The Raps only shot 20.6% from the floor in the second half and 16.7% in the fourth quarter.
That's a winning formula.
More thoughts after the jump:
- Danny Granger had a much better all-around game tonight, "only" shooting 7 3-pointers while scoring 23 points with 4 assists. As mentioned above, his defensive effort on Bosh down the stretch was huge and the energy he brought made the defense go. With things going south in the second quarter, Granger lost his cool with Sonny Weems and picked up a technical. That seemed to light a fire that ignited 33 for the rest of the game. Hey, whatever works.
- My favorite play from Granger came with one minute left in the game. The Pacers were nursing a two-point lead and almost exclusively relying on perimeter shots. Granger received the ball on the left wing behind the arc. All year, that's been a 3-point attempt, but as Bosh ran out to Granger he pump-faked and drove the ball into the lane through some help before finishing at the rim to give the Pacers a four-point lead.
- A.J. Price was absolutely huge again in the fourth quarter. After a lackluster showing in the first half, the rookie seemed perfectly at ease making big plays with the game on the line. None was bigger than the corner 3-ball he splashed just prior to Granger's drive to the bucket. His steady play on and off the ball along with 8 fourth quarter points made a big difference for the Pacers. He even got into it a little bit with Jose Calderon, having no problem replying to anything the veteran PG was throwing at him.
- Earl Watson put the Pacers over the hump late in the game when the offense was struggling to cash in on the defensive stops. A corner 3-ball, a long two-pointer and then a cross-court pass to an open Price in the corner for another 3-pointer were enough to push the Pacers into a lead they were able to hold onto down the stretch.
- Roy Hibbert was tethered to the bench much of the night after picking up two early fouls. Hibbert played a little over 7 minutes and none in the second half. JOB discussed Roy after the game and said he was -14 in the first half and it just wasn't working with Roy against Toronto's lineup. In past games against the Raptors, Roy hasn't played at all, so he decided to go in another direction.
- JOB did mention Hibbert when discussing the success of the small lineup with Granger at PF. The Pacers are 8-3 when the small lineup is used a majority of the game. JOB will include Roy in future small lineups and in fact mentioned that Roy has thrived in that type of lineup in the past. Yep, Roy thrives when not playing with Troy Murphy. JOB didn't say that, but we all know it.
- Dahntay Jones didn't play a minute, but to his credit was up off the bench quite a bit cheering his teammates on, especially A.J. Price. After the game, JOB said the Pacers need to space the floor to succeed and be able to knock down 3's and they struggle doing that with Dahntay on the floor. No dog house and his defense will be needed in future games, just not against the slower Toronto lineup tonight.
- Jarrett Jack returned to Conseco Fieldhouse but didn't have his best game. The former Pacer only played 13 minutes, scoring 5 points with 5 assists. He did receive a warm welcome in pre-game introductions.
- Tyler Hansbrough played tonight after missing the past seven games with an ear infection. He played his normal all-out style but said after the game he still didn't feel like his normal self. He finished with 4 points and 7 rebounds but missed 5 of 7 free throws. I was thinking maybe with his dizzy spells he should shoot at the middle one. Prior to the game his frustration with the inner ear issues was palpable. I mentioned a similar issue I had a couple years ago that had me in the emergency room after a few days. His immediate question was, "How'd they treat it?" By the desperation in his voice, I think I could've told him about some witches brew I drank and he would've tried it. Unfortunately, I just had the same treatment to try to clear up the ear and it took forever. Hopefully the worst is behind Hansbrough and he can resume his role off the bench for the Pacers.