Indiana’s Western road trip nightmare is finally over. The bad news is they hadn’t been able to send home any positive letters while seeing the sights in California, Oregon, and Colorado. The good news is they’d put forth more fight than they had shown the entire season in Arizona, even if the end result was the same as the first 42.
The Pacers were lucky to catch the Phoenix Suns without Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic, but that meant they had to see Steve Nash, who can still be more than effective at less than 100%. Indiana managed to jump out to an early lead despite spending the quarter chipping paint on the rims by living at the free throw line. The blue and gold managed to hold the Suns at bay for a large part of the quarter, but at some point, the Pacers needed to hit shots at the rate Phoenix was. The game took a see-saw nature as the quarter came to a close when Danny Granger saved a loose ball and put it in the basket.
Very little changed in the second quarter as the Pacers continued to shoot poorly, despite heavily benefiting from second chance opportunities, even as the free throw differential shrank. The Suns spent the quarter slowly building a double digit lead, but Indiana managed to make numerous responses to keep the game manageable, as the whistles were blowing for both sides. The Pacers certainly made it interesting to close the half with a Granger three followed by an Earl Watson steal and three to pull the Pacers to within six at the half.
Indiana came out of the half scorching offensively, active defensively, and managed to take the lead back, albeit briefly. Fans will be glad to know that Josh McRoberts and A.J. Price shared floor time in meaningful minutes while Brandon Rush flew around being active on both sides of the floor. The Pacers remained a part of the game despite lapses defensively, giving the Suns numerous easy buckets. A minor scuffle woke up the Phoenix crowd as Granger told them to quiet down after he hit his technical free throw. An animated ending to the quarter pushed Phoenix’s lead to seven going into the final stretch.
With plenty of fire heading into the fourth, Phoenix pushed the lead to ten, before Roy Hibbert brought the Pacers back to within six working on both sides. Granger worked extremely hard, but was limited by cheap fouls as the boos rained down on him for every play he made. The Pacers managed to hang around, but ran out of time when three straight three point looks from Rush, T.J. Ford, and Granger went errant and eventually fell as Phoenix outrebounded Indiana at the end.
Some bullets from the most exciting loss you'll ever experience after we jump for Roy:
- In the first quarter alone, the Pacers had 18 second chance points. This in addition to no turnovers and plenty of free throw attempts, kept the team in the game despite shooting 25% for the quarter.
- Josh McRoberts was able to get off the bench more than once, seeing seventeen minutes of action, ending with seven points, and an ∞ in heart and hustle.
- Roy Hibbert had an extremely quiet game, but still had a team high 22 points, on 12/12 FTs with six boards and five blocks before fouling out. Much credit to the big fella for getting his at any means necessary.
- Amar’e Stoudemire got his all night, finished with a 30 point game, including 14-16 from the line, doing his part in the win, but Jason Richardson’s big rebounds really helped push this game into the Suns favor for good.
- Brandon Rush was alive on the offensive end, despite struggling from the field, finished with 13 points on 13 shots. Not great, but seeing him willing to take a shot with the game on the line.
- Eight technicals were handed out on the night, including the ejection of Channing Frye. After the third quarter, the refs began to call the game much tighter, disrupting the flow of a game that could’ve been a real classic.
- A.J. Price, yes, that A.J. Price, got valuable game action during the third quarter when the game was still very much up for grabs. He finished with zero points, one rebound, and one assist in six minutes, and got burned by Steve Nash, but at least he got on the floor.
- Danny Granger desperately tried to play hero following the third quarter dust up, telling the Phoenix crowd to quiet down after his baskets. Questionable fouls kept Danny from turning it to the next level, but the fans let him know how much they didn’t appreciate him by booing him at every touch.
The altercation in the third quarter brought the crowd to life, but it also brought the Pacers to a new level. The team, which had been playing well to that point, got fired up, and played with that passion and pride we had so desperately been looking for all season. And no less, it was done with McBobs, Hungry Hungry Hibbert, Price, Danny, and Rush getting plenty of minutes.
Not only was the passion finally there, but the team was relevant again, if only for one night in the desert. Following the Frye ejection, the Phoenix crowd became irate towards the visiting Pacers. At one point with McRoberts at the line, the fans loudly and proudly chanted, "Pacers suck!" Indiana may have lost the game, but the joy of being recognized, of being hated, of being relevant; it makes the loss more than worth it.
Having taken the last two against this Suns team, maybe there can be something of a heated contest when these two teams meet up again. Suddenly, I’m excited to see Indiana play in Phoenix again. To hear them boo Granger. To hear them mention how much they dislike the Pacers. Phoenix fans may have gotten the last laugh tonight, but they only get real joy for doing so because Indiana demanded their respect a year ago. These are the foundations of great rivalries, it’s unfortunate this is one that will likely never flourish due to conference alliance.Next up, the Pacers get to stop at home for a night between Big Ten Tournaments to play the now Iverson-less 76ers. Sixers are neck and neck with Indiana in the lottery race, so it should be interesting to see how this one unfolds, especially if Indiana plays with the fire they played with tonight.