Tonight is a chance for Pacers fans to feel fortunate. To escape heartbreak and disappointment. To get away with a win they clearly had no business grabbing in a game they weren't even a part of for the better part of three entire quarters. It's a bittersweet victory that ultimately ends in excitement because, well, it's a victory. However, even through the disgusted facial contortions that rested on every Pacers fan, it can at least be noted that Indiana didn't just rely on the Washington Wizards to come back down to earth following their scorching 34-point first quarter because the Pacers played some clutch basketball in Winning Time to come away with a victory they had no business leaving Washington D.C. without.
A game that appeared to be Indiana's to lose heading into the tip quickly became all Washington when the Wizards hit their first seven shots and nine of their first ten to absolutely blanket the Pacers in a 21-8 opener that was every bit as bad as a 21-8 deficit against a team shooting 90% might look. To make matters worse, well, the game got worse. The lackluster Pacers didn't seem to learn their lesson from their recent "winnable games" fiasco, spending the first quarter getting rolled by the Wizards.
Indiana caught a break in the second quarter when the scorching Wizards suddenly went ice cold, scoring only 4 points through the first six minutes on a pair of former Butler Bulldog Shelvin Mack field goals. Unfortunately, the Pacers had no qualms playing even worse, scoring just 1 point in those six minutes, a stretch run into the ground by awful ball control and all-too-often Pacers shooting futility.
Jordan Crawford, who scored 18 first half points and Chris Singleton on a career night would push the Wizards lead all the way up to 22 points, all but doubling up the terrible play of the Pacers, who did all they could to muster up 31 halftime points, heading into the locker room down 20. But for as bad as Indiana played, the writing was clear on the wall that if the Pacers could simply showcase some semblance of focus and offensive rhythm, the Wizards would be unable to manage their lead.
Wheels continued to spin in the third quarter before Danny Granger, who had just 1 halftime point, scored 7 straight for the Pacers as part of an 11-0 run to get Indiana back into single digits as they were able to claw back within six. Early in the run, the Pacers got a scare as David West left the game with a dislocated left pinky finger, forcing just more onto an already bad outing. Even as the Pacers cut the game to six, the Wizards showed a lot of resolve in their ability to match the Pacers and get some key baskets led by John Wall.
Even though the Wizards had some key buckets, the Pacers bench, back to no-show status, mustered up enough to key a 9-0 run to cut the game to two. But every time the Pacers got the game close, it seemed there was some way they were shooting themselves in the foot to ruin their momentum. West would return with the dislocated finger and he had a big shot to get Indiana to within one point.
With the ball and driving, Paul George was whistled for a questionable charge that Chris Singleton used to drop a huge three pointer that fueled a quick 5-0 Wizards run to put them back up six, as George seemed to really struggle down the stretch with decision making. When the Pacers needed a player to ride down the stretch, they turned to Roy Hibbert, who scored 7 fourth quarter points to weather the Wizards momentum shift.
The Pacers trailed by two with 90 seconds left when George missed a three pointer that David West tipped out the rebound to Darren Collison who found George for a second chance three pointer that put the Pacers in the lead for the first time all night. Collison stole the ensuing inbound pass as his last second pass to Hibbert went awry, West again came up big to clean up the miss by tipping it back to the Pacers and Collison with 30 seconds left in the game.
Collison would miss his jumper, but for a third consecutive time, David West continued to channel his inner Jeff Foster by tipping out the offensive board to Collison, who was fouled and hit one of his two free throws to put Indiana up two, capping an impressive clock killing stretch where Indiana held possession for over a minute of game time. The Wizards had one final chance as John Wall dribbled around for a moment too long, his game tying jumper coming after the buzzer to seal the Pacers win.
After the jump, more on a Pacers W:
The elation in result of the win was noticeably subdued, and justifiably so. Getting up for a game the Pacers all but gave away against a far inferior opponent shouldn't be on the list of highlights for the Pacers this season, but a lot of credit should be given to the way they weathered unbelievably bad play to come away with a much needed victory. It's not a comeback that would happen against a large majority of the NBA, not that Pacers fans need reminded of that given how many times the Pacers have been unable to erase large deficits against better opponents.
What should be celebrated is the way the Pacers were able to close this game out. Not only did the Pacers keep loose balls alive on a night they struggled to hold onto the ball, but they couldn't seem to get on the right side of 50-50 balls, making the way the game ended really noteworthy. David West was tremendous. His 10 first quarter points salvaged one of the worst opening efforts of the season, and to come back despite a dislocated finger to make the plays he made in the fourth shows just how valuable he is to the team.
Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert carried the team in the second half to really erase the first half struggles themselves, struggles that lasted throughout the game for the Pacers bench. As George Hill, Tyler Hansbrough, and Leandro Barbosa combined for 44 points in the Pacers win against the Clippers, the trio had just 7 tonight with Hill blanking and Barbosa going 1-4 in limited minutes, missing both of his free throws.
While Darren Collison didn't exactly blow the point guard battle wide open, he had a better night than Hill, who himself had absolutely no rhythm going offensively all night. With all of the clamoring for Hill as a potential starter, tonight was a great example just how important Hill is to the bench because Collison isn't going to offer the same kind of punch Hill can.
Too much is made of starting and Hill leading the second unit to salvage a possible sinking ship of an effort from the starters is far more valuable to this team than whether George Hill's name is heard in the opening introductions. Hill's inability to get it going tonight as the Pacers second unit allowed Indiana to fall further and further behind the Wizards isn't a problem that is going to be fixed by replacing Hill and Collison. It's not about hurt feelings, it's about what's best for the team, and what's best for the team is Darren Collison starting.
Back to the Pacers as a whole, they were able to grab a road victory against the Wizards, and will be rewarded with two more games in two nights that starts with the improved Phoenix Suns at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers won't be able to squeak out a victory tomorrow by playing as they did tonight, making a better start that much more important.