Once again, the Indiana Pacers struggled to start the game, but rode the hot hand of Danny Granger to erase an early 12-point deficit and eventually run away from the Charlotte Bobcats for a huge 111-88 win.
The win completed a 4-0 sweep of the season series for the Pacers while putting them three games ahead of Charlotte for the eight playoff spot in the East. Charlotte may now go into shut down mode along with their leading man, Stephen Jackson.
Jack gutted his way through tonight's game with a strained hamstring because of the stakes involved and was able to get off to a strong start while limping around. His 9 points first-quarter points helped put Charlotte in control of the game early. But after sitting down, he was never able to get going again in what might be his last game of the season. On the broadcast it was mentioned that Jack said if Charlotte lost this game he would probably shut it down for the season to let his hammy heal.
The way the Pacers started the game, though it was hard to believe they would throw a 35-point swing at the Bobcats. Unlike the bad start in New Jersey, the Pacers weren't sloppy, in fact they only had four first half turnovers. Instead the offense was just goopy with a serious lack of ball or player movement, lots of one-on-one play and forced shots. At the other end there weren't many answers either, as the Pacers relied on a holding Charlotte to one point over the final three minutes of the first quarter to "hold" them to 28 points. Certainly could've been worse.
Things started to click in the second quarter and when Danny Granger re-entered the game he simply took over. His 14 points in the final nine minutes of the half threw all of the momentum on the Pacers' side and set up the second-half outburst that saw the Pacers outscore the Bobcats, 57-37.
While Granger picked up where he left off after the break, Tyler Hansbrough started cashing in his scoring opportunities as well. Then Brandon Rush joined the pair, finding his stroke and knocking down three 3-pointers to cap a 13-4 run that put the Pacers up 15 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Charlotte never recovered.
Granger ended the night with 33 points on 11 of 19 shooting from the floor for what would be his most efficient and timely offensive game of the season considering the importance of this game. Hansbrough had an efficient night himself, drawing a mixed reaction with every play he was involved in from the mixed crowd of North Carolina and Duke fans, finishing with 24 points on just 10 shots. The pair combined to make 17-20 free throws while sucking the life out of the Bobcats and Time Warner Cable Arena.
Simply a big win in a big game for the Pacers. Granger played like he could really smell the playoffs and his team followed his lead. The scent of the playoffs should be plenty strong now for the Pacers now and supply plenty of motivation to finish the season.
After the jump, a few thoughts and observations.
- The Pacers only had 13 turnovers including a few well after the game was decided. More importantly, Darren Collison (0) and A.J. Price (1) only had one turnover between them.
- Collison provided a scare late in the second quarter when he went down in a heap holding his knee. He limped back to the locker room but it was only a bruise, so he was able to return for the second half. He finished with 7 points and 4 assists, missing a few mid-range shots he's been hitting. The key is he didn't make the negative offensive plays and let his teammates do the heavy offensive lifting.
- Roy Hibbert only took seven shots but finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. He also blocked a couple of shots and dropped off four assists. One bad foul limited his time in the second half. He had a block on Kwame Brown in front of him on a platter, but instead of keeping his arm straight up to deny the shot, Roy swung through to swat it and hammered down on Brown forcing a whistle. As Chris Denari said, that was a rookie Roy move.
- Speaking of rookie woes, Paul George just had one of those nights. When in doubt the whistle goes against him and he was hampered with foul trouble all night. The night ended on a bright spot though as a pair of finishes at the rim put the Pacers up 23 points with a little over five minutes to play. The dunk on the second finish served as an appropriate knock out punch. In garbage time, Lance Stephenson found PG for an alley-oop finish which was mighty nice.
- Speaking of mighty nice alley oop finishes (I promise I'll stop), Josh McRoberts had THE highlight play when he corralled a high pass from A.J. Price with one hand, cupped it and stuffed it, then paused on the landing to let everyone soak it in. Sweet.
- D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston were a handful for the Pacer point guards, combining for 32 points. Livingston used his size to score over both guards.
- Things were going so well for the Pacers that when Dahntay Jones set himself up for a monster dunk only to be met at the summit by Tyrus Thomas, the clean block was whistled a foul.
- Oh, and Sacramento beat Milwaukee, 97-90. Wow! That gives the Pacers a 3-game lead on both Milwaukee and Charlotte. It also should help focus the Pacers on Friday night since that same Sacramento team will be in town to play the Pacers.