Survive and advance.
Since style points don't count, the Indiana Pacers will gladly take a win tonight, surviving a sluggish and sloppy start with a strong third quarter before hanging on to beat the New Jersey Nets, 101-98.
This isn't the NCAA tournament but just like teams are happy to win under any circumstances to keep their season alive in the college tournament, the win tonight keeps the Pacers a nose ahead of the competition as the playoff race heads to the wire. The win tonight puts the Pacers up two games on both the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks heading into Wednesday's matchup with Charlotte.
The Pacers emerged from the locker room at halftime looking like a different team, using a pair of 9-0 runs in the to take control of the game by outscoring the Nets 29-17 in the quarter. The blue and gold got it done at both ends holding the Nets to 24% shooting in the third quarter.
All of that was necessary due to the horrific start that had the pacesr down 19-15 after the first quarter and then 40-28 later in the second quarter. Darren Collison had 4 early turnovers as the team coughed it up 9 times. It appeared they were playing with a beach ball at times with some of the weak dribbles in traffic and bad passes. Fortunately, the Nets without Deron Williams just aren't that good.
Danny Granger missed his first seven shots and finished the first half shooting 1 for 9 with 3 points. Those three points sparked a 6-2 run to close out the last minute of the half and bring the Pacers within four points at the break.
Granger finished the games with 20 points thanks to an efficient second half effort scoring 17 points on 6 of 8 shots. Collison was assertive out of the gate in the third quarter and made things happen without being so loose with the ball. He finished with 15 pionts 12 assists and 6 rebounds, making all nine of his free throws, including four game-clinching freebies to keep the Nets two possessions down in the waning seconds.
But finishing off the Nets was nothing close to easy for the Pacers. After the jump, how the Nets forced the Pacers to play until the final buzzer after it appeared a sequence of plays by Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Collison had put the game away.
The Nets just kept hanging around in the fourth quarter until a Sasha Vujacic 3-ball cut the Pacers' lead to six points. Frank Vogel quickly called a timeout as the Nets quickly assumed the game's momentum. Out of the timeout, Granger knocked down a 17-footer to quiet the buzz building for the Nets. Then at the other end a floor scrum for a loose rebound ended with Tyler Hansbrough forcing a jump ball after Vujacic appeared to have the initial possession.
At the New Jersey end, Hansbrough tapped the jump ball back to Granger who loaded up a full-court pass to a streaking Collison at the other end. Collison finished the layup through a Sundiata Gainse foul, then completed the and 1 to put the Pacers back up by 10 points with 2:24 left to play. But the Nets kept raining 3-balls after offensive rebounds until the lead was down one possession.
The Nets earned a stop on a Roy Hibbert miss, but their next possession came up empty on two (yes, two chances) wild 3-balls. From there, Collison took care of the game at the line. Whew.
- Roy Hibbert had a strong offensive night, scoring 14 first-half points to keep the Pacers hanging around through the messy play. Big Roy finished with 24 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, his first 20-point game since the All-Star break.
- Hibbert also had 4 turnovers, part of 19 nasty donations by the Pacers for the game.
- The Pacers got some big minutes off the bench from Josh McRoberts and Brandon Rush. Rush finished with 10 points, hitting two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. As he did against Chicago, Rush played the bulk of the crunch-time minutes instead of rookie, Paul George.
- McRoberts was active and seemed all over the place finishing with 14 points and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. McRoberts closed out the game at PF instead of Tyler Hansbrough to give the Pacers an additional ball handler as the Nets extended their pressure. The PF combo would end up combining for 21 points and 12 rebounds. According to Chris Denari, Hansbrough was dealing with a headache prior to the game.
- Speaking of issues prior to the game, A.J. Price was relegated to the bench after missing the morning shoot around without an excuse. That put Lance Stephensonin the backup role and forced Collison to play almost 40 minutes. Stephenson held his own on the court, playing without trying to do too much and more importantly not turning the ball over.
- Price is doing himself no favors, not to mention his team by carelessly letting them down. Without a guaranteed contract, Price should be doing everything within his power to impress the Pacers and in turn the rest of the league. This move was far from impressive. Not to mention the fact that your team is in the last gasp, critical stages of the season trying to make the playoffs. Hopefully he comes out on point in Charlotte and makes up for the mess for the remainder of the season.
- The Nets squeezed of 98 shot attempts in the game including 26 from behind the arc. Fortunately, the Pacers made 27 of 30 free throws to nullify that bulk rate shooting effort by New Jersey.