It felt good to finally have the Indiana Pacers show up on the right side of a game for once and while the Portland Trail Blazers seem to be fading, they're still a team who has playoff expectations themselves, so the way Indiana took care of business was really a joy to see.
And while the focus of the game early was on a frenzied pace where both teams seemed out of control, Indiana was keying in on great ball movement and defensive intensity that really stunned the Blazers. Portland had no luck from the floor tonight, going 2-15 in the first quarter, but hung tough due to their overwhelmingly lopsided free throw advantage. With the free throw advantage came early foul trouble for Danny Granger and Paul George that limited their nights, despite early positives from both players.
George Hill's return to the lineup made all of the difference against the foul strapped Pacers. His cuts to the basket, the way he moved the offense, it was everything the Pacers had been lacking in their recent losses, and really felt good to have the bench really step up with the starters limited in minutes. The Pacers blew the game into double digits in the second quarter behind Hill, Lou Amundson, and David West, who really dominated the offensive side of the ball with smart shots and more importantly, smart shots that went in.
Indiana had the game at 18 points before the Blazers began a slow comeback led by free throw attempt after free throw attempt. Portland finished the night +22 in free throw points on 23 extra attempts, a note for how badly Indiana shot from the line (just 8-15), and how many free throws Portland shot period (38). The active defense no doubt had the attention of the refs, who were quick to blow the whistle on the Pacers to put Portland at the line, helping to skim the halftime lead to just 10.
Fortunately, the Pacers got one of their trademark third quarters including a pair of back-to-back threes from Granger before Darren Collison finally broke through the 20 point barrier. From there, it was the Lou Amundson show, who scored the first 8 points of the fourth quarter en route to a career high night of 21 points to snap Indiana's losing streak, hold Portland under 30% shooting through the first three quarters, and hopefully give them some momentum heading into tomorrow's game against Philadelphia.
The Pacers came up on the raw end of just about every call tonight, though the way Hill and the bench stepped up in a big way to not only limit Portland possessions by rebounding, but also make sure they came up with the 50/50 balls. The level of play the Pacers had on defense really helped fuel the offense as they scored 20 points off of 15 turnovers, 12 of those steals by Indiana with all but three players registering one.
After the jump, more on a great team effort:
- It was a Lou kind of night as employee #17 finished the night with a career high 21 points on 10-11 shooting, absolutely making the most of every minute he was given, looking Foster-esque, Hansbrough-esque, and Jordan-esque. Oh, too far on the superlatives? The fact remains, in a total team win, it was Amundson who led the way for the blue and gold in terms of style and play. Given how far he's come since the early parts of the season, it's a very good sign for the front court depth that Amundson can show the level of play the front court needs.
- George Hill was the other can't-miss prospect of the evening, as he played the difference maker role in the second quarter with crisp offensive movement. As is the case with Amundson, you can see a growth in the way Hill has played since the beginning of the season. Where he didn't look capable of running the offense early in the year, tonight, he absolutely had everything going for him. He was able to make plays with the ball and make great movement without the ball, something the Pacers need a lot more of.
- Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert have gotten the brunt of the recent blame for the Pacers struggles, in some cases rightfully so, in others, not so much. Neither player had a statistical night that wowed (and tonight, no one did besides Amundson), but the way both played was far more confident than they've shown in recent outings. It may be too much to expect them to come out of whatever funk they're in, but it's as good a time as any for them to.
- Likewise, David West and Tyler Hansbrough had solid games where they did their fair share of work offensively. West looked beat on Sunday, but led the Pacers in rebounds tonight with a 10 & 10 double double. A.J. Price played his role tremendously tonight handing out six dimes in a night the Pacers were at 50% for most of the night.
- On the bright side for the disappointing foul troubles, Danny Granger and Paul George, who each had some very positive things going when they weren't riding pine for foul issues, logged 18 & 21 minutes respectively. On most nights, that may be a hindrance, but with the bench carrying the load tonight, it should hopefully leave Granger and George antsy and well rested for tomorrow night's game.
And speaking of tomorrow night's game, the Indiana Pacers will host the Philadelphia 76ers on ESPN in the blue and gold's first game on basic national television since 2008. That particular game, a late season flex against Boston, was simply a coronation for the Celtics in winning their 60th game of the season, but finally, the Pacers will be on television for their own accomplishments, and will do so against their current postseason opponent in the 4-5 series, and a key game regarding home court advantage. It'll be a key game and a must watch game.