Once again, the Indiana Pacers started poorly and despite an honorable second-half comeback, the early deficit required more talent and energy to overcome than the Pacers had to offer, ending with a Magic win, 109-98.
The Pacers were down 20 points after the first quarter as the Magic came out determined to improve their play in front of the home town fans. And by determined I mean smoking. Shots were falling at an alarming rate and all seemed to be either 3-pointers or layups.
The layups part can be attributed to some poor defense from the visiting Pacers. If you look at a shot chart online, I'm not sure there's enough pixels to handle all of the little circles under the Magic hoop. They're stacked up like chips in the last hand at the WSOP.
The Magic lead balooned to 29 points in the second quarter and at one point it looked like we were headed for another mind-numbing blow out. Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard provided the heavy artillery but Matt Barnes was killing the Pacers by tracking down loose balls. Barnes finished with a career-high 16 rebounds. Then there was Jason Williams off the bench dipping into his vintage White Chocolate bag of tricks. The point guard was a step quicker than every Pacer and had a nice bounce in his shot.
The Pacers simply put forth a disheartening effort in the first half and while I commend to second half effort that saw a small, veteran lineup cut that big early deficit to as little as eight points, the story of the game remains the horrible early play with little defense and poor offensive ball movement.
Fortunately, the Magic have trouble playing all 48 minutes themselves.
After the half, Jim O'Brien moved Troy Murphy to center and went small the rest of the game. Right away the move worked and the Pacers cut the lead to 15.
The Magic rallied to push the lead back to the mid-20s but to the Pacers' credit they mounted another rally, this time forcing the home team to sweat. In fact, with the lead dwindling, Stan Van Gundy was forced to put his full starting lineup back on the floor late in the fourth quarter to keep the Pacers at bay. While Danny Granger and Troy Murphy did most of the damage down the stretch they just couldn't get over the hump.
Their best chance came with three minutes left in the game. The Pacers were down nine points with the ball and Troy Murphy had an open 3-pointer, but alas the ball clanked and the Pacers would draw no closer for the rest of the game.
A few more thoughts:
When the Pacers beat the Magic a couple of weeks ago, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis combined for just 15 points. Tonight the pair pumped in 50 points.
Hack-a Howard was in play as usual as the Pacers sent Howard to the free throw line 24 times with Howard making 16. The ploy seemed to work late in the game when Howard missed a pair. But thanks to a mind-numbing lapse, the Pacers couldn't gather up the rebound and Barnes once again beat the blue and gold to the ball for his 15th rebound which in this case was the dagger play of the night.
Danny Granger started the game in foul trouble with three fouls in the first four minutes of the game. A couple of the fouls simply weren't smart plays. Granger sat a bit, but with the Magic lead growing rapidly, JOB put Granger back in the game hoping for a little relief. Granger didn't foul again until late in the game and in the second half was able to knock down some big shots. Granger finished with 25 points and 6 rebounds.
Troy Murphy's game was a mirror image of the Pacers game as a whole. Murph was two for the first half and witnessed several Magic layups with little to no resistance. In the second half, Murph showed up big. Maybe the fact that he had to guard Dwight Howard sharpened his focus, but his play improved drastically. Murph finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds while doing a decent job on Howard in the second half.
Earl Watson ended up playing 40 minutes on the night and had his ups and downs as well. Watson's second half defense was a catalyst for the Pacers as they worked their way back into the game. On the night, Watson had steals.
Dahntay Jones also played an important role off the bench helping out with the comeback effort. Jones had an efficient 17 points on 8 shots.