Not to buck the trend the Pacers have built up all season, but lately, the team has really had issues bringing home wins against below .500 squads. For whatever reason, they managed to squeeze in a couple of pretty inexcusably poor losses around some rather solid ones. Tonight, the Pacers looked to stay in the win column as they squared off against the Detroit Pistons for the fourth and final time this season.
The two teams didn’t meet for the first time until six weeks ago, so they’ve become a familiar foe in the past six weeks as the two still had four games to play in a stretch of 20 games. Detroit, despite their record, has caused matchup problems for Indiana all season, a Brandon Rush game winner from being 0-3 against the former Eastern Conference powerhouse. It was difficult to expect much considering the Pistons hammered home a pretty convincing win just a week ago.
The script certainly didn’t flip itself in the first quarter of tonight’s game. Not only did Detroit continue to take advantage in side, much as they had the entire series, but timely shooting from Tayshaun Prince and Greg Monroe gave Detroit an early lead. The starting lineup seemed fairly lethargic early, but the return of Mike Dunleavy help as a boost for Indiana, keeping them within striking distance as the team began to settle into another long, hard fought game against the Pistons.
Fortunately for the Pacers, Josh McRoberts stepped up in a big way to help lead the second unit on a run to put Indiana back in the lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Suddenly a hard fought game became a game the Pacers controlled on both ends. Not only were the Pacers completing shots offensively, but they were suddenly keeping the easy inside shots Detroit had thrived off of in the first quarter out of reach.
The second unit got Indiana into the lead, and the starters came back and kept the intensity alive, putting Indiana up 14 points as the second quarter wound down. The Pistons made a quick run to cut it to ten, but a big Darren Collison shot (and subsequent steal) helped close out the half strongly. The Pacers stormed out of the gate in the second half using a lightning fast 15-4 run to take a commanding 74-51 lead, all fifteen scored by Collison, Danny Granger, and Paul George; the latter of which became show assertiveness within the starting unit really for the first time.
From there, the Pacers were in cruise control and everyone who found their way to the ball contributed for the blue and gold and for the inevitable win. Detroit would mount a furious comeback in the final seven minutes, but would fall in the end as Indiana gained enough traction to weather Detroit’s flurry of points, coming away with a convincing 111-101 victory. In addition to the refs calling the game loosely in the fourth quarter helping Detroit get away with a few calls, Detroit managed to climb back in much in the same way they led in the first; with easy points inside and hustle to 50-50 balls. It’s night and day Indiana’s abilities against any team in the league when they can win at hustle plays and loose balls. Tonight was no exception.
The Pacers did look very good tonight. Everyone came to work and made some solid plays. Dunleavy looked effective in his return, and his return certainly helped to open up the Indiana offense. The team rolled when they exhibited crisp ball movement and stagnated late when they were limiting themselves to isolation plays and one pass shooting. Dunleavy could be a huge X-factor in this team’s play down the stretch as they inch closer and closer to a postseason berth.
After the jump, Mark Boyle calls his 2,000th game:
- Josh McRoberts really lived up to Tom’s recent article on Employee #32 by finishing strong with 15 points and 13 rebounds, hitting his first six shots, grabbing seven offensive boards, stepping up on both the defensive and offensive end to help end the Pistons’ recent success against the Pacers. Josh not only made a solid double double look routine, but continued to offer considerable contribution outside of the box score. Just like him.
- Darren Collison not only seems to have worked out of that slump (turns out it was a slump after all?), but really turned the corner in doing so. Collison followed up a big offensive night against Boston with 20 points on 9-11 shooting. Ball movement dropped his assist numbers and he got caught in a few pretty regrettable turnovers, but all in all, it was an assertive and productive night from the starter.
- Paul George appears to be far too tentative in the starting lineup. Early in the game he continued to pass out of potential plays for him in an effort to make plays for his teammates. While this is a good thing to do on an off-night, it’s not the best for a player of Paul’s caliber and ability to continuously defer. He did come out in the second half and open his game up, looking for his shot, taking plays from his teammates and turning them into points. What his role will be with Dunleavy returning as far as starting or coming off the bench remains to be seen, but it was a solid stretch of play from young George.
- Mike Dunleavy had himself a nice return, chalking up 9 points. He shot poorly from deep, but didn’t look as slow and out of sync as the absence may have made him. But more than his statistical contribution, it was noticeable and often just how valuable his presence in the offense is at opening up ball movement. His ability to show up at any point in the half court helped Indiana tonight, even if he did end up being the only member in negative numbers on the +/- scale.
- Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger came up tonight with a pair of quiet double digit nights. Neither needed to be any more than they were, but Granger (4 steals) and Hibbert (2 blocks) helped keep the Pistons reeling. Jeff Foster had one of his better nights in recent games, scoring 7 points and grabbing 7 boards, remaining pesky and showing up at the right place when necessary.
- The Pacers won this one as a team on a night Mark Boyle called his 2,000th Pacer game, giving him a well rounded gift to commemorate the occasion. It was a night for remembering some of his more memorable calls, most of which could only come during the postseason. Boyle has been the voice of the Pacers for longer than I’ve been a fan and few things define my childhood more than quietly turning my radio on well past my bedtime for a game and hoping I wouldn’t get caught as Boyle walked me through what I always hoped would be a Pacers win. But even if the team fell, Boyle along with Slick Leonard would always pick up the slack. His "He hit it!" call following Rik Smits’s game winner over Tree Rollins in the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals remains the call in my mind; the most iconic aural memory I will ever have in relation to the Indiana Pacers…at least until Boyle manages to top it.
Indiana grabbed a convincing victory tonight on the same night Charlotte and Milwaukee eked out wins of their own. The magic number for the postseason is now six. With Milwaukee hanging on for deer life, Indiana will hope to deliver the knockout blow as the Bucks travel to Conseco Fieldhouse. This series, much like the series against Detroit, has caused Indiana considerable trouble, and the team can simply not afford to give Milwaukee a potential tiebreaker heading down the stretch. Every game to close the year is important, but this may be the single most important of them. The Pacers responded against Charlotte, now they’ll need to do the same against Milwaukee.