The Charlotte Bobcats seemed to have an invisible force field protecting their lead.
A porous defense by the Indiana Pacers put them in an early hole and as their play improved in the third quarter the Pacers just couldn't break through and tie. They'd close within one or two, but then Charlotte would push it out to four or five.
With three minutes left to play, the Pacers were again down five at 96-91. Frustration was smothering hope, as it seemed the Pacers would never get over the hump to take the lead.
Finally, Danny Granger dented the force field, knocking down a long three-pointer over the outstretched arm of DeSagana Diop. Diop closed out a little too aggressively though, and the whislte sounded as Granger's perfect stroke was in mid-arc. When the ball splashed through the net it seemed to burst that force field.
The Pacers executed quite well the rest of the way to steal a win on the road, 104-101, cashing in on a great effort from some unlikely heroes. T.J. Ford played the point down the stretch, comfortably attacking D.J. Augustin, a fellow Texas Longhorn, good friend with a game Ford knows quite well. Ford was able to drive by Augustin to create scoring opportunities for himself and Roy Hibbert.
After tying the game up at 98 with a layup, Ford swiped an errant pass from Augustin which was just the start of the signature winning effort put forth by the team. Ford sped the ball up the floor but didn't force a play at the rim, instead slowing it up and hitting Mike Dunleavy for an open 3-pointer. Dunleavy missed the shot, but Roy Hibbert battled for the rebound and eventually grabbed the ball and heaved it out toward mid-court after tippy toeing along the baseline. Mike Dunleavy went up in traffic to grab Roy's save and in doing so saved the possession. After Ford reset the offense, he found Roy rolling to the hole in the lane where he was fouled. Hibbert hit the free throws and the Pacers wouldn't trail again.
The Pacers wouldn't trail again thanks to the other unlikely hero. Tyler Hansbrough was described as too far behind offensively to be in the Pacers' playing rotation a day earlier by Jim O'Brien. As I predicted, Hansbrough played and ended up playing well enough for JOB to leave him in the game down the stretch. Hansbrough rose to the occasion by scoring the final four points for the Pacers. First, he caught and fired a 15-foot baseline jumper without hesitation as everyone remotely interested in the Pacers screamed, "No!"
Splash. No worries.
Then with the lead down to one, the Bobcats curiously went through Tyrus Thomas to try to take the lead. Roy Hibbert forced a bad shot from Thomas and Hansbrough hauled in the wild rebound. He was fouled with ten seconds left, but calmly knocked down both free throws to give the Pacers their winning margin. Check that, there was nothing calm about Hansbrough's free throws. He was amped up, but that appears to work for Hansbrough.
Of course, Charlotte ended up with two more chances to tie the game, but Stephen Jackson missed a wide-open 3-ball at the buzzer, allowing the Pacers to exhale and enjoy their first win of the season. Nice win.
After the jump, a few more thoughts and observations.
- Jim O'Brien deserves credit for adjusting his playing rotation tonight and then going with the players who were playing well down the stretch. Danny Granger played a lot of minutes, including more than usual with the second unit which desperately needed his offense on the floor. Ford had Augustin's number tonight and Hansbrough was helping defensively, at least minimizing the damage, so JOB kept them on the floor at crunch time in place of Darren Collison and Josh McRoberts.
- For much of the night the Pacers defense was non-existent. Charlotte essentially had a layup line going in the first half with so many shots at the rim. In the second half, the Pacers adjusted by fouling which led to a huge free throw disparity (45 to 24). In fact, the Bobcats didn't score a field goal in the fourth quarter until there was about four minutes left in the game.
- Rebounding was also a problem for the Pacers as Charlotte ran down 10 first-half offensive rebounds and 15 for the game. In fact, that force field I talked about earlier was really all of those extended possessions. Killers.
- Danny Granger played heavy minutes and played well, offensively willing the Pacers to hang around to make their final run. Granger knocked down six 3-balls and finished with 33 points. Foul trouble knocked him out at winning time, though as he committed a silly sixth foul by grabbing Tyrus Thomas to get around a screen.
- Roy Hibbert started the game on fire, scoring 8 points with 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the first six minutes. From there, the offense didn't run through Hibbert nearly enough, but Hibbert was strong in the end and finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. Another strong game for the big fella.
- As you can assume from the description of T.J. Ford's exploits above, Darren Collison struggled a bit at the point. In reality it wasn't that bad offensively, as DC finished with 7 points, 6 assists and 3 turnovers. Unlike in San Antonio, DC's shots just weren't falling. He had a few nice plays in the lane that just bounced out. Defensively, he struggled to contain Augustin, often gambling on steals or leaving Augustin to help but not recovering in time.
- Josh McRoberts gave way to Hansbrough down the stretch, but McRoberts had another strong third quarter run, helping the Pacers stay in touch. A few key offensive rebounds and put backs were desperately needed. Considering he only played 17 minutes, his 8 point, 7 rebound effort highlights the total team effort that eventually created a W.
- Mike Dunleavy played heavy minutes and knocked down a key shot late in the game, but he struggled defensively, often matched up with Gerald Wallace who finished with 29 points. That's not all on Dunleavy, but there were a few opportunities late in the game I would've like to have seen a defensive substitution for Dunleavy.
- Rookie Paul George played plenty of second unit minutes with up and down results. Love the effort and he actually made half of his shots, including two 3-balls. He was also playing some old pro wings and learned a few lessons.
- The 23 turnovers against San Antonio drew a big chunk of the blame for that loss. The Pacers vastly improved in that area, only coughing it up 10 times in Charlotte. In fact, the +7 turnover differential played a huge part in allowing the Pacers to hang around and steal this road win.
- Another problem in San Antonio was poor free throw shooting. The Pacers took care of things at the line tonight making 20 of 24 freebies, including Hibbert and Hansbrough both making a pair with the game in the balance late in the fourth quarter.
- While the journey was ugly, finishing this game with a win ought to add a little more juice to the home opener on Saturday night against Philadelphia. No better time than the present to start a winning streak!