It wasn't easy. Even when the Indiana Pacers were up 6 points with under a minute to go in OT, all but having the game iced away, it wasn't easy. It took every second of the 48+5 minute game from the blue and gold to put away a very good Houston Rockets team on their home court, hungry for a chance to get themselves into the postseason.
For everything that transpired late, it was the early portions of the game that helped set everything up. The Pacers stormed out shooting 60% for the first quarter, as the five starters all pitched in the effort with Tyler Hansbrough making some plays late, but despite as well as they played, and holding the Rockets to a subpar shooting effort, Houston's ability to create second chance shots by dominating the offensive glasss, Indiana went into the second quarter with just a 4-point lead.
Sure, it's always good to be winning, especially on the road, but only four? The Pacers had a tremendous first quarter, but it all came back to earth when the second unit failed to capitalize on any advantage the starters had given, turning the hot shooting starters into an ice cold backup unit. The second unit could only muster up one field goal in the first seven minutes of the quarter, living at the free throw line, an advantage that served the Pacers well, missing just one of their first 18 at the line.
Danny Granger and David West gave a little life to the slumping offense late in the quarter, but they were unable to push the lead on the Rockets as the lead shrunk to two heading into the break. For the third quarter, the tables were turned as Houston went full throttle, jumping out on the Pacers for an 11-3 run that put them up 6. Granger and Roy Hibbert helped the Pacers weather the Rockets storm, but when time came again for the second unit, it was more struggle, only scoring 6 points in the final five minutes, as turnovers helped Houston's lead balloon up to 10 after the third quarter, holding the Pacers under 20 points for the second straight quarter.
Much has been the case for the Pacers making comebacks in recent games, it seems when the offense picks up, the defense takes a huge slack, and it was no different when the one quality offensive push the second unit made opened up the fourth could only cut the lead by three points. It was the starters that helped push the Pacers back into the lead, with a pair of back-to-back Danny Granger triples to put Indiana in front.
Roy Hibbert helped keep Indiana ahead from the Goran Dragic and Chandler Parsons showcase as Granger would put the Pacers up a pair with 38 seconds left in the game. The Rockets opted to foul, sending Darren Collison to the line, who split a pair, a quick Dragic layup drawing Houston within one. Collison again was sent to the line, painstakingly splitting another pair of free throws as Dragic again was able to get a pair of points to tie the game up.
A David West jumper to win the game went awry as the Pacers faced their fourth overtime game of the season. In the extra period, Paul George finally got going, grabbing a three point play as Danny Granger once again played hero, dropping his sixth three pointer of the night to put Indiana up six with time winding down. The Pacers, who had struggled keeping Houston off the glass, put on a rebounding clinic in overtime, corralling miss after miss on both sides of the floor.
After securing another board, Paul George began to clear the ball, as Dragic drew a highly questionable charge on George, setting up a tough three for Dragic. George had his pass in the backcourt stolen allowing Parsons to drive for the easy layup, cutting the six point lead to one in just seven seconds. From there, it was another free throw battle, and none other than Darren Collison got to the line, bricking his first attempt in another pressure moment free throw split to give Houston a chance at the win.
Despite all of the struggles, it was Danny Granger who made the defensive stand, blocking Parsons's game winner to allow the Pacers to escape with the 104-102 win. For the game, the wild finish really accented a game that was a lot tougher for the Pacers to win than it should've been given how well they played to open the game.
Had the Pacers been able to push the game ahead further, perhaps it never comes down to that. Had Collison hit one of his two missed free throws, putting him much closer to his 82% season percentage, it wouldn't have come down to him needing to hit two in overtime. Had Paul George not taken on a bad charge call, Goran Dragic doesn't get the game changing three. Had a fumbled ball between George and Courtney Lee been called a jump ball before Lee fumbled backwards into a travel, who knows where the game goes from there.
It goes to show just how important each possession in a game can be, and the Pacers passed the test tonight. It's a great playoff primer to see Indiana take advantage of the possessions that go their way and fight through the ones that don't. Regardless of whether the calls were right or wrong, both teams came up short on the whistle at crucial moments, it was Indiana who was able to come ahead and win in spite of it.
Danny Granger was on fire tonight. Not only was he 11-20 from the floor for 34 points, he hit 6 of his 8 three point attempts, the only six for the Pacers all night. Danny was in rare form tonight; he put the team on his back in a way he hasn't in the past. He wasn't going to allow the Pacers to lose tonight's game, and that was a big step forward for the same player who was completely removed from an embarrassing loss to New Jersey by the referees. It's a great time to see Granger's shot come around, and aside from that one blemish, he's averaging 23.3 in the other eight games, a stretch the Pacers are now 6-2 in.
It was really a night all about Granger, but the rest of the starters played exceptionally well. No starter had less than five rebounds, everyone but Paul George ended up in double figures. Despite Darren Collison's struggles from the line, he still facilitated the offense well, racking up seven dimes. Roy Hibbert had tough stretches but played well late, totaling five blocks over the course of the night. On the bench, Leandro Barbosa had a quiet ten points and Tyler Hansbrough had a positively Tyler-esque 9 points and 10 boards on 1-7 shooting.
The Pacers will get a chance to grab a win against the New York Knicks on Tuesday as the calendar opens up for Indiana, spending 10 of their final 14 games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Knicks will be without Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire, but given Indiana's continuous struggles against three point shooting teams, those injuries are a long way from injuries that make Tuesday's game "winnable."