"This is going to be a special end of the year. Jump on board."
Frank Vogel’s vote of confidence after extending the Indiana Pacers to their first three game winning streak of the year, against a Trailblazers team that had beaten the Pacers just two weeks earlier, was nearly as inspiring as the way the Pacers went about frustrating and thoroughly hounding Portland on both ends of the floor.
Indiana made it an effort to find baskets inside tonight, and in doing so, lived on the free throw line. Led by a surging Roy Hibbert, the Pacers reached the free throw line 17 times in the first quarter, using that to build a double figure lead. The Blazers clawed to within seven after the first quarter. Despite the strong play from Indiana, Portland rode Rudy Fernandez to a 15-2 run that tied the game in the second quarter, a lead the Pacers would fully relinquish the lead as the quarter wound down. However, Hibbert once again led the way as Indiana responded with a 9-2 run that would settle at six points at halftime.
Danny Granger set the tone out of the half, leading the Pacers with 11 third quarter points that helped the team maintain a solid grasp that had Portland scrambling. Paul George capped the quarter by breaking down the Trailblazers defense, for a very poised last second layup. In the fourth, Tyler Hansbrough showed his basketball savvy by taking the ball directly towards All-Star Snub LaMarcus Aldridge the very play after he picked up his fifth personal foul. The result? Aldridge would spend the final ten minutes of the game on the bench.
The heads-up play by Hansbrough continued as the Pacers pushed the lead to twenty. After fighting for a rebound, Andre Miller lost his temper and gave Hansbrough a shove, one that resulted in a flagrant foul, throwing Hansbrough at the free throw line to ice a couple of calm free throws. If there was anything to take from the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Pacers did struggle in simply putting the game away. Even though it was out of reach, the Pacers failed to execute on the offensive end and didn’t make a single field goal following A.J. Price’s three pointer to negate a 7-0 Blazers run, which adds up to the final six minutes of the game.
Ultimately, the Pacers played inspired basketball tonight, despite the struggles in finishing the game. After being bullied by the Cavaliers at the free throw line, Indiana made it a point of emphasis to get points at the line early and often. Despite some struggles in converting some of these free throws, the team finished with an astounding 43 free throw attempts, a testament to how hungry the Pacers were at attacking the basket tonight.
Indiana also stepped up their defensive game. After a series of really poor defensive outings, the Pacers stepped up in the second half, holding Portland to just 33 points over the final 24 minutes. Indiana didn’t shoot much better, but were helped out by their willingness to crash the boards, outrebounding their opponent by nearly 20. The Pacers also pushed the tempo in the first half, dropping 60 on a Blazers team that can win on less than 90. The Pacers still lost the turnover battle, but managed to hold onto the ball at a much better rate, finishing with 16 TOs.
After the jump, "Nobody wants to play against Tyler Hansbrough. That’s fun. Jeff Foster…nobody wants to play against Jeff Foster!"
- Danny Granger had 25 points tonight and did such on just 13 shots to go alongside his 9 rebounds. Granger attacked the basket all night, and was rewarded with 10 free throws, his second straight game of 10 or more FTA. Granger’s has rebounded nicely since his poor performance against the Raptors and is managing to find ways to the paint and to the scoreboard despite any shooting woes he might be going through on a given night.
- Roy Hibbert ended up having 15 points, but led the charge for Indiana at two different junctures of the night, scoring 9 points for the blue and gold in the first quarter to help set the tone of the game. Roy is now averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds since Vogel took over for Indiana. Hibbert’s offense is such an important part of this team’s success, and you can see why in these last three games. The team now improves to 16-10 when Roy scores 13 points or more, which means they are just 4-17 when he isn’t a factor offensively. Quite a swing for the big fella.
- Darren Collison continues to excel offensively in the pick and roll system. He only scored 11 points, but did so on an efficient 4-7, but also dished out seven assists, bringing his totals to 16 and 7 in the Vogel era. A.J. Price had himself a fairly mediocre game. Despite a solid night defensively from the Pacers squad, Rudy Fernadez managed to get his against Price. However, despite the struggles, Price essentially sunk the dagger on his timely three pointer that finished the Blazers fourth quarter push and put the game to rest.
- Paul George’s night was best summed up by Vogel: "He didn’t shoot well, but you wouldn’t know it by not looking at the stat sheet." George only made on field goal, but his activity on both sides of the ball was a joy to watch. The rookie even managed to draw a few fouls and worked his way to the line. Most notably, the positive message sent to George was great to see. Vogel managed to find the positives in a 20-year-old rookie, fighting for his place in the NBA, amidst a poor night offensively.
- Dahntay Jones provided a nice push off the Pacers bench, going so far as to lay in a pretty impressive three point play in the basket. Mike Dunleavy continued his fine shooting efforts (and even found time to make some headway defensively), as he extended his current streak of two three pointers in a game to nine. Just a few nights after pulling in his 5,000th rebounds, Jeff Foster reached another milestone by reaching 2,000 offensive rebounds, becoming just the third Pacer to reach that point. He did so in impressive fashion, tracking down 8 tonight, matching the total of Portland’s entire night.
- A rather nice subplot for viewers tonight saw Stacy Paetz issue an interview to Bo Man, a Pacers fan from Beijing, who was lucky enough to see his favorite team in person. Bo Man mentioned to Stacy that while everyone in China was Michael Jordan fans, he had become a huge Reggie Miller fan and a Pacers fan by extension. He took his opportunity to thank Reggie for everything. Reggie was not only watching the game, but tweeted his appreciation to Bo Man, of course making Bo Man’s trip all that more worthwhile. It was a small, but wonderful addition to a great win for Indiana; a great move on Reggie’s part, not only make a fan’s entire trip, but to still be so invested in his former team.
As for the Pacers themselves, Coach Vogel has done a great job involving this team, going so far as to listen to their advice in timeouts, on top of showing inspirational Rocky clips to his team. The early going has certainly shown results: the Pacers are 3-0 and on their first three game winning streak of the entire season. The Pacers take the court next in New Jersey on Super Bowl Sunday, for an early afternoon tip against a Nets team not only coming off an embarrassing loss to the Pacers, but who play good basketball on their home court. Indiana will have to be ready to walk out of Newark with a fourth straight win, but if any team can do it, it certainly feels like this Pacers team is on the track to do so.