The Indiana Pacers defense held one last time, keeping the Los Angeles Lakers, and more specifically, Bryant scoreless on their final possession over the last 16.4 seconds of the game. When Bryant's final 3-point attempt to tie the game fell harmlessly into Big Roy's outstretched arms, the Pacers cradled a hard-earned 95-92 win, the team's first win in L.A. since 1999.
Fittingly, the Pacers closed the game out on the defensive end after putting forth another incredible team effort to slow down the potent Lakers. Yes, I realize Kobe Bryant had 41 points but there's no proof that Kobe is human. Although, it did take Bryant 33 FGAs to amass those 41 points as Brandon Rush played some excellent, on-ball defense on Bryant much of the night. Kobe was just too good on 14 of those attempts, making several, heavily contested shots.
The Pacers ran out to a 15-point lead in the third quarter, but the Lakers closed strong and cut the lead to eight heading into the fourth. Kobe and Kobe alone scored the final 16 points for the Lakers in the third, and after watching a similar game slip away to Oklahoma City on Friday, you could just feel this one setting up as another heart-breaker for the Pacers.
But not tonight.
Instead, the Pacers stayed tied together on the defensive end. Showed some patience and worked through Roy Hibbert on the offensive end, who finished with a team-high 24 points. As they did all night, the Pacers were a step quicker to loose balls, kept possessions alive that looked dead and basically just kept grinding and hanging on until that final buzzer sounded.
There was no quit. No fold. No deferring to a teammate to make a play.
What we did see was some growth, right there before our eyes, from this young team that has struggled at winning time and squandered far better offensive efforts than we saw tonight. They took the fight to the Lakers all night and quite frankly, I think most of the Lakers' roster, save for that man, were stunned by what they ran into tonight.
Great win to start of the road trip. After the jump, a few more thoughts and observations. It's late, so please fill in your own personal kudos for anyone or anything I don't touch on.
- Let's start with Roy Hibbert. After rolling free to the hoop, T.J. Fordfound Hibbert for a dunk on the Pacers' final offensive possession which proved to be the game-sealing bucket. Hibbert has struggled down the stretch in several games this year, but not tonight. He simply out-played Pau Gasol in the post all night long finishing with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. He also teamed up with Josh McRoberts to defend the rim quite well.
- McRoberts finished with 4 blocks and 5 judicious fouls, including a key foul late in the game when three Pacers forced a Bryant miss, but Gasol grabbed the miss at point-blank range. McRoberts fouled Gasol who made both free throws, but that was setting up as a classic and 1 situation and McRoberts fouled Gasol hard but on the ball. Gasol didn't come close to getting a shot up at the rim and the foul wasn't close to a flagrant. That was the tone all night for the Pacers -- make the Lakers earn everything they get.
- The Pacers didn't play their best game of the season by a long shot. Nine first half turnovers and some missed layups by T.J. Ford turned into Laker points at the other end. Fortunately, those missed opportunities didn't come back to bite the Pacers tonight. Ford, in fact finished the game at point and played a big role in closing it out. First, he finished a layup over Gasol for a much-needed bucket and then he dropped the dime on Hibbert for his final flush.
- Darren Collison had three turnovers but made some big buckets along the way, finishing with 14 points. DC didn't finish the game but this was a team effort with 10 Pacers all making contributions to the win and Collison had the Pacers running in the third quarter.
- Brandon Rush and Danny Granger continued to team up as a defensive tandem. Granger took some turns on Kobe, but Rush gave Bryant fits at times. Ron Artest made a big 3-ball in the fourth quarter but that was his only bucket all night. Aside from that shot and an elbow to Hibbert's head, you wouldn't have known Ronnie played in this game.
- Mike Dunleavy, Tyler Hansbrough and Solo Jones all made an impact off the bench, giving the Pacers a second-unit advantage. The three combined for 17 rebounds as the Pacers once again out-rebounded an opponent (48-45). Solo Jones had 5 possession-saving offensive rebounds, doing his best Jeff Foster imitation.
- Like I mentioned above, this was hardly a great offensive effort by the Pacers. They let a lot of good scoring opportunities slip by early in the game and then the Lakers' defense late was stifling. The Pacers were 4-23 from 3-land and certainly took a few too many threes in the fourth quarter. But at the other end, the Pacers held the Lakers to 39% shooting for the night forcing the Lakers into plenty of jumpers away from the rim.
- Reggie Miller tweet: First my Pacers smack the Heat upside the head in Miami, then tonight moonwalk over the Champs in LA. Nice win for the Blue n Gold.