It felt like the Pacers were shooting lights out.
They only shot 37%? Well, okay, it seemed like there was exceptional ball movement.
What? They had just 14 assists on 35 FGs? Was it good three point shooting? No? A showcase of exceptional bench play? The bench had just 22 points! A couple of guys getting hot? Darren Collison was the only Pacer over 50% shooting, though.
Then what was it? How did the Pacers cruise to a decisive 97-83 victory to improve to 9-3 overall and a perfect 5-0 at home?
The Pacers play defense?
Sure enough, the Pacers overcame numerous offensive deficiencies tonight with a masterful defensive effort that kept the Celtics under 40% shooting, forced 18 turnovers, had 12 steals, and another 10 blocks. It's hard to believe given this franchise's recent struggles defensively that the smash mouth mantra Frank the Tank has wanted to instill on this team seems to be paying off, to the point where the Pacers entered the game 3rd in points allowed and 4th in field goal defense, with another effort that will only improve those numbers.
Even still, it's fair enough to believe the great play of the Pacers came on both sides of the ball because it was such a fun game to watch. The eye test showed a team that was cohesive, well balanced, and looked rested (well, Danny Granger was rested) even if the box score suggested it was a bit of a sloppy offensive performance. But the Pacers won the turnover battle, had over 52 rebounds (20 on the offensive glass), had 42 of their 97 points in the paint, and dominated the Celtics 23-9 in second chance points.
Sentimentally, a second double digit win over the Celtics feels like it's an important statement for the Pacers to make, but realistically, Indiana beat a team that has struggled to even compete with anyone that has had a pulse and has been sent into a four game losing streak that began against the Pacers. Regardless, the fashion in which the Pacers won, a lot of the time even dominated, is where the statement should be.
Neither team showed the ability to run away early, with numerous lead changes keeping the game within two possessions before Indiana responded to a 7-0 Celtics run with a 12-0 run of their own that would put Indiana up for good. The interesting thing with the flow of the game wasn't so much the importance of that 12-0 run, but that the Pacers were ready for a response the rest of the night. At no point in the rest of the second and third quarters did the Pacers let up more than four consecutive points to Boston, something Boston was only able to achieve twice.
As Boston fought to keep the game within striking distance, it was the Pacers that were there with a response every single time. Great defense kept Boston in check, timely offense made Celtic responses moot. The game felt mostly comfortable even sitting just around 10 points, until the Pacers put the game on ice with a 9-0 run late in the second half of the third quarter, putting Indiana up 18, holding Boston scoreless over five minutes, forcing ten consecutive misses.
The fourth quarter was filled with the Pacers valiantly putting forth the effort to drop their shooting percentage under 40% yet again, so let's not harp so much on that, but the word of the game was defense, maybe mixed a bit with teamwork to create a weird hybrid word like teamfence or dework.
After the jump, the Pacers continue to hold serve at home:
- Roy Hibbert had a rough shooting night, but it didn't really feel like it. Though he finished 5-15 from the field, he had another near-double double of 11 points and 9 rebounds. He was a big part of the gameplan early, forcing inside against Jermaine O'Neal, who did a solid job on him when you look at the numbers. Defensively, Hibbert had an impressive game, being a thorn in the paint, even sending Kevin Garnett packing in a block Roy told KG to kindly "Get outta here," short a choice word or two.
- The first quarter was also helped along by Paul George, who had 9 points in the first quarter en route to a 17 point game. All things considered it was a positive night for Paul, who not only did a far better job tonight in containing Ray Allen, but forced Doc Rivers to sit Allen in the first when George had it going. George also ended up with a pair of steals, a block, and 8 boards to go alongside his nice offensive night. Despite some suspect decision making, and an almost Danny Granger-esque fear of dunking in fast break opportunities. But if you can gripe about George scoring points on layups rather than dunks, more power to George.
- Danny Granger made the most of his second half off last night by leading the Pacers in scoring with 21 points on 8-19 shooting. Interestingly enough, the somewhat okay shooting performance didn't come from outside the arc, but rather from within, a notable contrast given the season to date. Granger was just 1-6 from three point range (his lonely three pointer in the third quarter the 9-0 run that effectively hammered home the win), putting him at 7-13 inside the arc. Add in another solid defensive effort, and it appears maybe Granger could be rounding into form.
- As mentioned earlier, the bench combined for just 22 points, but it's not as if they played terribly. George Hill splashed a pair of threes and had a pretty big 8 points, even spending some productive minutes at the point. Lance Stephenson abused Avery Bradley, Jeff Foster took 6 FGA, and Jeff Pendergraph scored his first points with the team. Tyler Hansbrough had a rough night, either still adjusting to the glasses, not getting any love from the referees, or feeling the ill effects of his Tar Heels getting destroyed by Florida State. Whatever the cause, he was as vocal and frustrated as he's been in his time with the blue and gold, a sign that would be positive if he weren't having such a bad night and didn't feel like he was walking the technical line every time he opened his mouth.
The Pacers are off until Wednesday, an eternal wait in this breakneck season, but much deserved break for the blue and gold who continue to make the most of their limited home court chances in the early parts of the season. When they emerge in four days, it will be in Sacramento, California for the first of three road games to face the Kings. It's their lone West Coast swing of the year, in a stretch that will include 8 road games in their next 10, including games in Chicago, Boston, Orlando, Los Angeles (to face the Lakers), and Dallas. Where the Pacers sit in ten games will remain to be seen, but for now, at 9-3 and tied for second in the East, Indiana has lived up to nearly all of the expectations heading into the season, with plenty of opportunities for growth.