It’s all right. It’s completely understandable if you read the score and don’t believe it. The Indiana Pacers, who had dropped nine straight to the Atlanta Hawks, six straight in double figures actually did come out on top tonight…by double figures. So rub your eyes, it’s not an optical illusion. To be fair, Atlanta was short the service of Josh Smith tonight, but at this point in the series between the two teams, Indiana will gladly take any win they can get.
Even more rewarding than the win itself was that Indiana led this one wire to wire. In fact, they never once trailed despite a couple of first quarter ties. The Pacers helped themselves out early by once again exercising a quick start, jumping out to a 10-2 start led, where Indiana got all ten points in the paint cutting to the basket, a pair of those coming quickly from Paul George.
Indiana shot 59% in the first quarter on their way to a 33-26 lead and finally pushed it to double figures halfway through the second after Dahntay Jones attacked the rim repeatedly and was rewarded with a few free throw attempts. Atlanta outscored Indiana 10-4 to close the second, the lead salvaged by Tyler Hansbrough jumpers.
In the third, Danny Granger had 14 and Roy Hibbert 7 as the Pacers continued to hold the pesky Hawks at bay. Considering everything this series has been it was actually frustrating that the Hawks were hanging around. But through it all, Indiana and Atlanta kept up their ends of the deal to create a game not competitive enough to be great basketball, but competitive enough that you can’t quite call the win. Some things don’t change, it would seem.
In the fourth, Indianapolis native Jeff Teague went to work, doing all he could to get Atlanta back into the game as he would finish with a team high 21 points, but it’s probably not your night when Jeff Foster is putting up some work offensively, scoring six fourth quarter points as Darren Collison joined in to help close out the lackadaisical Hawks. Collison and Hibbert finished with double doubles, the fourth pair of Pacers to reach double doubles on the same night this season.
All in all, the Pacers may have been the only people in Conseco Fieldhouse who weren’t aware tonight’s game was as inconsequential as a game can possibly get in the NBA. No one told the team that it would’ve been perfectly okay to mail tonight’s game in. But that’s completely fine. They went out and put the Hawks down early and kept them at arm’s length the rest of the night. The Hawks, meanwhile, seemed perfectly content with going to work and going home. For fans of the Pacers, it was great to see them not look past their opponent tonight and close out a win against a team no one expects them to beat.
They assisted on 23 of 42 field goals, a number much higher in the first half, but still indicative of tremendous awareness and ball movement. While some defensive lapses are still in order to clean up, the offense looked well oiled. If Chicago’s defense is the biggest hurdle the Pacers will have to overcome, they need to continue to iron out any and all wrinkles offensively and score, score, score. It helps to only commit 11 turnovers all night as well.
After the jump, Chicago won, so the series is now official:
- Danny Granger had just 9 points at halftime, but Indiana led by 6. Granted, they should’ve led by more, but regardless, Granger led the way in another tremendous and well noted team play first half. He had 19 points in the second half, but once again, all 19…well, totaling to all 28…were as unheralded a near 30 point night you can have. Granger has been shooting better, driving better, scoring better in the last two games, and for this team to have any shot in the postseason, they need Granger to be playing like this. Scoring hasn’t been as effortless for Danny this season as it’s been in years past, but in the last two games, we’re seeing that. We’ll just need a lot more of it.
- Darren Collison only shot 70% tonight (7-10), which drops (!) his shooting average out to 70.6% in the past six games, where Indiana is not coincidently 5-1. To make it more impressive, he’s 0-6 from three point range in these games, putting him at nearly 80% inside the arc. Collison’s play as of late, which resulted in his second straight double double, has been every bit what Pacers fans expected from the player crowned as the "point guard of the future" when he was acquired last August, doing so with another exclamation point dunk.
- Roy Hibbert had a double double as well a fairly effortless 14-11 night, and despite some trouble against Al Horford and with free throw shooting, continued to play consistently in helping his team with the win. Hibbert led a rebounding domination of the Hawks, but shot under 50% for the first time in a few games partially because he was caught forcing a little too much. Leaning and chucking hasn’t been an effective part of Hibbert’s game in the past, it won’t suddenly become one.
- Tyler Hansbrough had a quiet 13 points, but used it as a chance to effectively round his jump shot back into game form, taking 10 of his 11 attempts from range, hitting five. Part of this was due in large part to Horford, who did not prove to be an effective matchup for Hansbrough. Josh McRoberts continued his unorthodox onslaught with 8 points and 8 boards, and Jeff Foster finished with 8 and 6. It was a positive night for the Indiana front line, which will continue to round into shape for their series against Chicago.
- A.J. Price went 0-5 tonight, but in that is the fact he only shot five times. The somewhat trigger happy Price has been a streaky shooter on his best nights this season, but in recent games has really taken to helping control the Indiana offense, setting another 4 assists to bring him to 16 assists in his last three games, an almost astronomical number for a player who’s never set much in that regard. If he can’t hit, he needs to distribute, and that’s what he’s working on doing.
- The rookie Paul George followed up his career high night with 7 points, but spent most the night spinning in place from early foul trouble. His start to the game, two quick cuts to the basket and another set piece triple, certainly helped the cause in the first half as Atlanta tried to stay in the game.
As mentioned briefly above, the Chicago Bulls win over Cleveland makes the first round series between the teams official just in case any lingering doubts remained. While the Pacers improving to 37-43 is their highest win total since 2005-06, Chicago’s 59-20 record is their best sine 1997-98, the year they eliminated the Pacers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana has two more games to prepare and get them up to speed for an electrifying postseason.
They’ll start with the final matchup of the regular season against the New York Knicks at Conseco Fieldhouse for Fan Appreciation Night (I say regular in hopes for the Eastern Conference Finals matchup we’re bound to have if New York can hold up their end of the deal), where the blue and gold lead the series 2-1. Hopefully Amar’e Stoudemire is a go, if only so Tyler Hansbrough can throw down a couple more dunks his face before the season is over.