The Indiana Pacers bench closed on a 16-7 run to save mention of a "the final score was not indicative of the game" kind of speech, but you know, it's not really a bad place to start, mulling over the negatives in an overwhelmingly positive effort that saw the Pacers thoroughly pound the injury riddled Minnesota Timberwolves into submission that in any youth league, would've been called when the Pacers jumped out 32-7 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Actually, the Pacers jumping out to 32-7 with so much time left in the quarter, not scoring the rest of the quarter, and finding room for only four before the starters trickled back in three and a half minutes into the second kind of paints a picture on the feast and famine Indiana experienced between the starting unit and the bench tonight. While Leandro Barbosa chalked up a respectable 9 points, he had 9 of the bench's 11 after three, 9 of the bench's 13 before they finished strong in the game. Indiana saw a 32-point lead at the end of the third quarter dwindle to 14 on the bench's pure ineptitude through the first 6 and a half minutes of the fourth, and...well...let's just say the final score was indicative of the game tonight, and the bench's poor play is precisely why.
The starters carried the load to jump out on the Timberwolves and didn't lose a beat in the second quarter. Indiana led 64-27 with the half winding down when Danny Granger sank the team's eighth three pointer, taking a 64-30 advantage into the break. Minnesota has been killed by injuries, seeing their once promising season fizzle out, not only shooting below 30%, but shooting just 46% from the free throw line in the first half. To their credit, they came out with a surprising amount of fire in the third quarter, began hitting three pointers, and may have mounted a comeback had David West not utterly abused Anthony Randolph to keep the Pacers lead in the 30-point range.
The aforementioned bench struggles allowed Minnesota to pull the game to 14, but A.J. Price jump started the offense to finish out strong, capping a 111-88 victory that was, fourth quarter struggles aside, just what Pacers fans had hoped to see given the way the team had had to close out games against below .500 opponents in the past week.
After the jump, more credit to the starting unit:
- David West scored the first 12 Pacers points of the third quarter en route to his 22 point and 10 rebound double double. Anthony Randolph had zero chance to slow down West. His interior partner Roy Hibbert was just as dominate with a double double of his own, pairing in 5 blocks. The two combined for 6 of the team's 24 assists in a starting unit thriving on a showcase of ball movement that could only be described as a "clinical."
- Danny Granger actually led the team with 5 assists, grabbing 7 boards and hitting five three pointers as he finished with a cool 19. His partner on the wing, Paul George, finally broke out of his own slump. The Pacers rolling through a blowout helped them focus more on getting the struggling Paul some looks, allowing him to go 5-9, 2-2 from range, and hit all six foul shots as he put up 18 of his own.
- George Hill really played well at the point tonight, which allowed the offense to flourish with the starters. In a particular series, the Pacers struggled find the basket, but six offensive rebounds on one possession gave the blue and gold opportunity after opportunity. Following another miss, Hill showed up out of nowhere to slam the ball home, giving the Pacers a hard fought and well earned two.
- Darren Collison returned and shelled out 19 rust filled minutes, eventually getting shelved for A.J. Price. With Hill playing well and Collison simply not, it may make Collison's return to the starting lineup a bit more difficult for Frank Vogel, though with another chance tomorrow coming off the bench, Collison can hopefully get something going.
- Hopefully the bench as a whole can get something going, following a fairly pitiful effort on the offensive side, with a typical Leandro Barbosa night being the highlight in a Lou Amundson train wreck and whatever Tyler Hansbrough pitched. The Pacers in fact closed the game strong once Kyrylo Fesenko entered the game, the big big fella getting four points and four boards to aid in the onslaught.
A few games of note tonight had Orlando topping Philadelphia and Atlanta doing the same to the Raptors. This keeps both teams tied for the fifth seed with Atlanta holding the edge as the Sixers continue to fade while Miami came from behind late to knock off the short handed Nets to put the nail in any possible hopes for the second seed.
Yet the third seed is where the Pacers sit, dominating the Timberwolves for their fifth straight win and ninth in their last ten. The lead over Atlanta, Orlando, and Boston sits at 3 games, with the magic number to lock into that slot also being 3. The league has a light night tomorrow with Boston traveling to New York in what could effectively eliminate the Knicks from sixth seed contention. The Pacers will take the court as well, traveling to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers in their final road game of the season. So prepare to cheer on the Pacers as they head towards their 40th win of the season.