The Indiana Pacers went small once and for all.
After hinting at it for a few games, Jim O'Brien finally started a small lineup against the Philadelphia 76ers, moving Roy Hibbert to the bench, adding Luther Head to the backcourt and sliding Troy Murphy to center and Brandon Rush to forward along with Danny Granger.
Not only did JOB start small, he stayed "small" all game long, never playing Roy Hibbert and Troy Murphy at the same time and utilizing the extra wing player for all 48 minutes. The end result was net positive as the Pacers overcame a slow start and early 11-point deficit to continue attacking in the second half and notch a second-straight road win, 109-98. With the win to build on, the small lineup appears here to stay.
"In regards to small vs. big lineup the margin is over +320 (favoring small) for the year. We'll go with it for as many games as we can, as long as we can because that's our best lineup," JOB told reporters after the game.
So what took so long?
One of the arguments against going small was running into mismatches against opponents with big front lines. Opponents like Philly with Samuel Dalembert in the middle. After losing to the Sixers on Saturday, JOB overcame his matchup fears and a funny thing happened -- the Sixers had to adjust to the Pacers.
Philly built an early lead by making a bunch of shots, but despite shooting 61% in the first half, the Pacers were only down four at the break. Even before the half, Eddie Jordan had to alter his lineup and thus minimizing Dalembert's presence in the paint.
The Pacers were dictating how the game was being played and really took over in the second half with a much better defensive effort. Not only did Philly's shooting come back to Earth, but they only made 5 of 24 (21%) shots in the third quarter and finished the second half shooting just 28%.
Unlike in Indy on Saturday, the Sixers couldn't find the answer on their bench. On Saturday Thaddeus Young led a 52-point outing by the reserves with 22 points. Tonight Young was pressed into big minutes due to the Pacers lineup but only scored 8 points.
In fact, the Pacers' bench outscored the Sixers, 38-35 thanks to a nice effort from Dahntay Jones (18) and Roy Hibbert (10). Not only did Dahntay provide a spark off the bench, he played a key role down the stretch to put the Pacers ahead for good in the final four minutes.
The Pacers were clinging to a three-point lead as Andre Iguodala led the Sixers attack. Jones was able to answer at the other end but using his size and strength in the post on Lou Williams. Dahntay score 7 points on three straight possessions. Leaving the Pacers up 5 with under two minutes left in the game and setting up the game-sealing possession.
After Iguodala made 1 of 2 free throws, the Pacers had the ball up four with 1:30 left in the game. The Pacers worked the ball to Danny Granger who had Elton Brand switched out on him. Granger passed on attack mode and settled for a jumper over Brand which bounced high off the rim.
Troy Murphy saved the possession and in essence the win, coming up with a Foster-esque offensive rebound by batting the loose ball out to his teammates on the perimeter. Earl Watson then took a few dribbles to the hoop before finding an open Brandon Rush for a dagger 3-ball in the corner.
Boom, baby! Game over.
Philly wouldn't score again and the Pacers sealed the road win.
A few more thoughts:
- Danny Granger had his stroke going in the first half, finishing with 18 points including 3-4 from 3-land. He was never able to get it going full throttle in the second half though and ended the game with 26 points, leaving the hero work for Dahntay Jones and Brandon Rush. Granger should get credit for his defensive work since he was part of an aggressive group effort in the second half.
- The Sixers made all the plays they needed in the win on Saturday and that included the bench players. Tonight not so much. The Pacers extended their lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to the good defense helping produce some really poor possessions by Philly. At times the home team seemed to be over their skis and a step ahead of their brain. The ugliest of the possessions was highlighted by Thaddeus Young, who did little wrong on Saturday, driving the ball from the wing to the top of the key in traffic and then jumping and attempting a behind-the-back pass that hit Elton Brand in the ankles on the baseline followed by the shock clock buzzing an end to the madness.
- The Pacers took far better care of the ball than they did on Saturday when they had 21 turnovers to only 17 assists. In the win tonight, the Pacers had 25 assists 16 which was far from ideal, but definitely a step in the right direction.
- Brandon Rush continued his steady contributions 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals and a block including the dagger three with the game still hanging in the balance.
- Roy Hibbert had some success in the post and at times seemed like he could do whatever he wanted when matched up with Elton Brand down low. Unfortunately, the Pacers didn't take the time to expose the matchup enough. I really liked the "small" lineup that included Hibbert in the post.