The Indiana Pacers bench outscored the Miami Heat bench, 53-14 in last night's loss, which was impressive and futile at the same time considering LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 90 points, doing enough damage on their own to win the game.
But the Pacers took the best shot from the Heat's Big Three and stayed in the game until the closing minutes thanks to the second unit. Dwyane Wade had 22 first-quarter points and the Heat seemed to think they had an early knockout on their hands. But Indiana's second unit wouldn't have it.
A.J. Price and Dahntay Jones scoffed at the 22-point hole the Pacers were in after the first quarter and came out to start the second quarter intent on changing the tone of the game. Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George and Jeff Foster joined Price and Jones to just start making plays, deflecting passes, forcing jump shots and looking for any excuse to hit the floor and beat their Heat counterpart to the ball.
They epitomized the blood and guts, smash-mouth effort coach Frank Vogel preaches, picking the team up off the canvas to start throwing hay-makers at the Heat. What was once a 24-point deficit eventually became a 5-point lead for the Pacers which simply doesn't happen without the second unit coming together and going to work. As the chemistry of this group continues to develop, they've become a big asset.
These guys need a nickname.
"We call ourselves the Goon Squad," Hansbrough said following the game. "We're going to go out there and do the dirty work, hustle and give a lot of energy. Be prepared."
Goon Squad works.
Hansbrough has no problem putting the goon in the Goon Squad with his willingness to join Jeff Foster in banging bodies in the paint.
"If someone's going to get an easy basket, they're going to have to go to the free throw line," Hansbrough said. "I'm not going to back down. I'm not a shot blocker, but I can jump and contest some shots and I will."
A.J. Price has run the show for this group off the bench and has lived up to his nickname, Juice in the past few games by energizing the Pacers off the bench.
"That's my role, that's my unit's role, the second unit we have to come in and bring energy," Price explained. "We have an advantage by sitting there and being able to watch the game first. Especially from a point guard perspective, I get to see what needs to change, and I thought our tempo was too slow to start the game so I came in to tried to pick it up."
Price smiled and shook his head when asked about the Goon Squad.
"We definitely take pride in what we do as a unit, try to come in and out play the other second unit," Price said. "That's always our goal every single game to try to outplay them. We did that tonight, but against a team like this you can't have lulls and lapses, you have to play for 48 minutes. We didn't do it down there in the fourth quarter when they beat us and we didn't do it up here in the first quarter tonight."
Paul George chuckled when asked about his role in the Goon Squad.
"We know when that second unit comes in we have to bring a spark," George said, continuing the familiar refrain of trying to change the game off the bench.
"If the starters aren't getting it done, we know we have to get it done. Everybody is out there pulling for each other. It starts from us competing in practice and carries over to games."
George, by the way, is playing through a bout of sickness, dealing with a few coughing fits last night while playing as though he were 100% healthy. He said he feels like he's trending toward getting better, though.
Dahntay Jones echoed George's sentiments, and as a vocal leader in the locker room, Jones has the pulse of the Goon Squad and knows why it is coming together.
"We have good chemistry," Jones said. "We practice together as a unit on a daily basis and we enjoy competing. That's the essence of us, all competitive, we compete at all types of things throughout the season and we enjoy competing together."
When asked about the Goon Squad, the post-defeat tone of Jones' voice perked up, as did Roy Hibbert sitting nearby offering some background commentary.
"That's right," Jones said, giving Hansbrough credit for the name. "(Hibbert: The Goon Squad!) We have an identity that we're not going to let you push us around. We're going to dive after balls, we're going to pick up full court, we're going to try to change the tempo (Hibbert: Goons), bring that energy. (Hibbert: Goonies!)"
After a tough loss last night, the Goon Squad will need to bring it again tonight in Detroit to make sure the Pacers head into the all-star break on a winning note.