With expectations dulled every so slightly following a pair of preseason losses against one of the elite teams in the league, the Indiana Pacers opened the 2011-12 regular season at home against a far less elite Detroit Pistons team. While the simple fact the 2011-12 NBA season is underway is exciting enough, Pacers fans who have real expectations for the first time in the better part of a decade were given ample reason to cheer about those expectations as the blue and gold cruised to an easy victory against the Pistons.
Detroit offered Indiana a lot of struggles last year, creating a reasonable level of concern that the Pistons may keep the game close and have a shot to steal an opening night win, but a 24-point second half lead was enough to take care of that particular worry. Often in basketball, you'll see a final score that's not indicative of the game and while the box score suggests the score was reasonable, the play on the court couldn't have told a different story. The Pacers never trailed, and used small spurts to open up at nine-point first quarter lead that would balloon up to 15 in the second, and 24 in the third.
But an interesting caveat is just how the Pacers played. They didn't play particularly well offensively, but forced their will to 18 offensive rebounds. They held the Pistons to 36% shooting, while not even shooting 1% better themselves. They simply hustled their way to victory. They were in the right place for loose balls, played well defensively, forced turnovers, and found guys on offense when it counted.
However, they still shot just 37%. Last year, when shooting under 40%, the Pacers had an 0-18 record. To be 1-0 on the season in that category is a huge step forward; an "okay, but we have to do better" concern to be sure, but looking at how the game unfolded, didn't seem like a concern at all. How is that possible? Let the good times roll, I guess. Is that an appropriate response to the success of a basketball team that could be very good as the year progresses?
Teamwork was a huge contributor to Indiana's success in tonight's game; a certifiable head nod that Larry Bird and Frank Vogel's master plan could have its seed grow into something tangible. It was certainly a tangible experience. Five Pacers players scored in double figures, three of them had double doubles. The starting lineup completely overmatched a Pistons unit in early and often foul trouble and the second unit didn't even have to salvage any kind of lackadaisical effort.
Truly, it'd be nice if this could be the expectation nightly, but there will be far too many ups and downs for this team for that to be true. But it would certainly be nice if this could be the benchmark, at least against teams that don't quite appear to be playoff bound. Taking care of business against lesser opponents will be a huge key for this Pacers team, especially in the opening stretch of this schedule.
Tonight's win had its individual highlights, but it's not quite fair to the cohesive effort that individual players be singled out when looking at the win as a whole. It was a true team effort, one Indiana will be relying a lot on this year to win and (hopefully) win often. But take a look after the jump for the individual highlights:
- Roy Hibbert deserves ample credit for tonight's game. After getting the blunt end of verbal abuse for a good week following his soft play against the strong Chicago frontline, Hibbert made quick work early and often of the undersized Pistons. Hibbert played like a 7-footer, with dunks, rebounds, and play worthy of his size. He led the way for the Pacers with 16 points and 14 rebounds, tacked on three blocks, and also happened to be the only Pacer above 50% shooting for the game. All in all, Big Roy had a great game. He may not always play well, but as long as he does when given a clear advantage, he can start working on consistency against higher level opponents.
- Paul George had a quiet 12 points and 7 boards, but showed considerable progress from his rookie season. Not only did he seem more aware of the offensive flow, but he actually made plays on offense, for himself and other players. Speaking of making plays for other players, Darren Collison was tonight's unsung hero. While he struggled shooting (as did most of the team), he set up the offense extremely well, being what the blue and gold needed him to be. Indiana will require a bit more offensive punch from Collison some nights, but a win is a win, and the stats won't do Collison's game enough justice.
- Danny Granger had some interesting moves. While he shot poorly, we saw some things we've never seen from Granger before, like him creating offense. Danny showcased better ball control and used that to facilitate the offense. Meanwhile, his front court partner David West has the potential to open up a lot of opportunities for Granger. West's 11 and 12 (including 7 offensive boards) was not only big, but Detroit opted to key in on West for double teams. While West will hopefully not force shots in those situations, double teams on players away from Danny gives Granger chances to light teams up. In fact, Collison was the best beneficiary of double teams, drilling a pair of wide open three pointers.
- The second unit played well. Jeff Foster was a scratch with a bad back, cutting the Indiana bench to nine players. Tyler Hansbrough teamed up with West in the paint most of the night, and had an effortless 15 points and 13 rebounds to his name. When not scaring Tayshaun Prince into wide open airballs, Hansbrough was being a thorn in Detroit's side, as he often is with most teams.
- George Hill appeared cautionary, almost as Paul George was in his rookie season with the starting unit, to not upset the balance of the unit rather than actually push the envelope and make plays for the team. He improved within the game, however, becoming more aggressive in the second half, with a Welcome Home! slam. Lance Stephenson also got some burn in the first half, and played not only as the point guard, but as a point guard. Stephenson's moves with the ball are special and if he can work on that as the season progresses, Indiana could have one of the league's best kept secrets not named Paul George.
It takes a lot to curb the excitement after a nice win like this, but it will be a long shortened season where many ups and downs will come into play. For one night, however, even a Pacers team that obviously didn't play their best game, still winning by double figures is cause for elation and a spell of excitement. Whether Indiana can keep the momentum going will be quickly tested as the team heads north to Toronto, Ontario to take on the Raptors, who will also be at 1-0 themselves.