The game takes and the game gives back.
On Monday night in Philadelphia, the Indiana Pacers found themselves missing two key players to start the game and three before it was all over and the 76ers had won the game. Tonight the game returned the favor to Indiana along with Danny Granger, George Hill and Tyler Hansbrough.
All three key players were available to take on the Atlanta Hawks and the team bounced back with as good an all-around performance as they have shown all season in beating the Hawks, 96-84. The Hawks came into the game missing one starter in Marvin Williams and lost another one in a play that set the tone for the Pacers' big night.
With the Pacers up two midway through the first quarter, Atlanta center Al Horford took the ball strong to the rim only to have Roy Hibbert completely stuff the shot attemp. Horford gathered the ball to quickly go up again, but Hibbert recoiled and got him again. As Horford went to the ground, teammate Vladimir Radmanovic tried to score for a third time at the rim. This time Paul George denied the shot and was able to take the ball the other way where David West eventually finished the play with a dunk as the Fieldhouse went nuts.
Horford strained his left shoulder when he went to ground and was forced to leave the floor and didn't return. Then Josh Smith picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter as he was trying to make up for Horford's absence. The Hawks hung tough, thanks to too many open shots for Joe Johnson and some lackluster transition defense from the Pacers.
In fact, the Hawks took 50-49 lead late in the first half before the Pacers closed the half with a 4-0 run. Frank Vogel worked his magic at the half and the Pacers dialed up the defense in the third quarter and caught fire at the offensive end to outscore the Hawks 27-9. Most notably, Danny Granger fanned the flames, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the third quarter with a couple of three-pointers and a couple of nice finishes at the rim as if neither play had been a problem all year.
Plenty of good to great performances from several players in this game which exposed what type of team they can actually be when things are going well.
More thoughts and observations after the jump.
- Granger's big night was surely a welcomed sight as he scored 24 points, grabbed five rebounds while making 9 of 16 shots without showing any problems with the ankle. Fortunately, the Pacers put the game away early and Granger didn't have to play at all in the fourth quarter.
- David West was also spared any fourth quarter minutes, but he did his damage early. West jump-started the Pacers early in the game and finished the first quarter with eight of his 12 points. He also dished out 4 assists while only needing to play 24 minutes.
- Roy Hibbert was strong again in the post and as seems to be the norm, probably underutilized since the Hawks had their hands full when Hibbert had the ball. The big fella finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but also made plays out of the post for others with four assists including a nice leave to a baseline-cutting Granger for a pretty layup. Hibbert also blocked four shots at the rim and altered a few others along the way.
- Lance Stephenson had his best game as a Pacer. He had his moments where he was out of control, but after working with Billy Keller on his shot, he was able to make the open looks Atlanta gave him. Stephenson finished with a career-high 12 points. Stephenson also had five rebounds and three assists.
- Those Stephenson assists deserve their own mention because each one required a little luck and a lotta help from his teammates. With the clock winding down in the third quarter, Lance found himself stuck with the ball out on the right wing. In desperation he chucked the ball across the court to Jeff Foster standing all alone behind the three-point line. Foster was left alone for a reason, but he dialed up the 3-ball anyway and drained it as the buzzer sounded for his first three-pointer since 2008. Lance also found himself stuck under the rim before throwing the ball out in traffic, only to have George Hill end up with the ball and then make a soft tear drop. Finally, Stephenson decided alley oop was the play with a defender and Tyler Hansbrough running with him on a fast break. The pass was off, but Hansbrough somehow gathered it and made the shot in one motion. Easy game.
- Hansbrough had a bit of a disappointing night, mostly because he didn't go with the rec specs and headband. instead he wore more classic eye wear with no headband. He ended the game with eight points on 4 of 9 shots but never quite seemed comfortable on the floor.
- Darren Collison also struggled for most of the game which seems strange to say since he ended with 8 points, 6 assists and a team high +/- of +19. But trust me, his game was off and his decision making clunky.
- George Hill on the other hand doesn't show up much in the box score but did plenty of little things throughout, mostly on the defensive end. Hill did have a pair of steals but he also took charges, deflected balls and did a nice job pushing the ball up the floor. Hill's box would've looked better if they counted hockey assists.
- Paul George had a quiet night, only taking four shots in 20 minutes, but he did have 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks while trying to tame Joe Johnson. Johnson definitely got the better of George in the second quarter including a stretch where he reeled off eight quick points including two three pointers as PG gave him too much space. Johnson didn't score in the second half though.
- Don't let that 12-point final margin fool you. This was a classic lockout knockout with the Pacers holding a 24-point lead with under five minutes to play in the game. A garbage-time run led by Jerry Stackhouse and Donald Sloan brought the final score down to a more palatable margin for Atlanta.
- Speaking of that garbage time run in the final five minutes, the Pacers put forth a nasty effort. With a lineup of Dahntay, Lou Admunson, A.J. Price, Lance Stephenson and Jeff Pendergraph (making his Pacers debut) there were some hard clanks off the backboard and rim. Pendergraph just couldn't get his first hoop despite three point-blank opportunities, which included a missed dunk.
- The Pacers hit the road to take on the Toronto Raptors on Friday. It should be interesting to see if they can build on this strong showing which revealed how many options the Pacers have and when three or four are going at the same time, they will always be tough to beat.