While the Pacers are still on their quest for the third seed, they made a big step forward in their progress by clinching a home court series in the first round regardless of whether they finish third or drop to fifth. The win against the Bucks gives Indiana their first home court series since 2004, while they extended their winning streak to seven, their longest since 2004, in what is undoubtedly the franchise's best season since 2004, so turn up Usher's "Yeah!" and enjoy the victory and home court clinching as the Pacers get it done against another team hungry for a postseason push.
The Pacers jumped all over Milwaukee with a 16-6 start as Indiana hit their first seven shots, capped by a pair of Danny Granger three pointers and carried by six assists on those first seven shots. The Pacers' starters looked extremely crisp on both sides of the ball, using Paul George defense to lead to George Hill dunks in a stylish and well oiled run to jump out early. Unfortunately, following the hot start, the Pacers went ice cold, missing 12 straight shots and allowing the Bucks to rattle off a 15-0 run to go up by 6. The bench continued to struggle to relieve the fluent starting unit and it wasn't until the starters return, led by Hill and Granger, that Indiana managed to get back on track.
Indiana used an 18-2 run into the third quarter to put the game well in their hands as the bench played quality minutes late in the third quarter (including a Leandro Barbosa four point play) to help maintain the team's double digit lead despite Dunleavy and Brandon Jennings's best efforts. With the Pacers holding their double figure lead, the frustration of the Bucks began to boil over following a Barbosa flagrant as Larry Sanders struggled to stay cool again, picking up a technical before things boiled over, creating a dust up resulting in Sanders's ejection, but not before he could run around trying to get at Granger and David West.
Despite some late game free throw misses, the Pacers would manage (despite a lights out effort from Dunleavy) to put the game on ice and clinch their first home court series in nearly a decade. Indiana struggled on the glass, getting out rebounded by Milwaukee and allowing 15 offensive boards. Indiana's play on offense was incredibly efficient, with the blue and gold racking up 24 assists on the night, led by George Hill with 8 and David West, who fell just three assists shy of a triple double.
Around the league, Dwight Howard will undergo back surgery to put him out for the remainder of the season. With the Orlando Magic the team most likely to play the Indiana Pacers in the first round, this news is huge, but it bears repeating that the sixth seed is not even close to being settled, not with New York within striking distance.
After the jump, quality wins with quality play:
- David West racked up a ferocious 21 point, 14 board, and 7 assist night to help lead the Pacers in rebounds. The big surprise wasn't so much West's quality play, but that he was a key part in the offense's movement, a big proponent in the team's fast break opportunities, something the seven dimes make evident. West also showed veteran composure while getting poked in the face by Larry Sanders as Frank Vogel held the big man back, avoiding an unnecessary suspension with so much on the line.
- George Hill was lights out with 22 and 8 assists himself. Paul George was a much bigger focus in the offense and the two tag teamed on a number of plays throughout the night with enough highlight jams to fill up a SportsCenter clip. With Darren Collison's injury likely carrying through until the postseason (and maybe into the postseason), Hill will be the starter, whether or not that's what's in the best interest of the team. Hill certainly helped the offense get moving early and at just about every stretch he was involved in, but it was the bench that again struggled because of it; with a pitiful showing in the first half. The good news was that they were able to get themselves relatively jump started through Leandro Barbosa who scored 10 of the bench's 20 points.
- Danny Granger led all scorers with 29 points and appeared to be on a huge roll for a huge game when he drilled his first two three pointers. But struggles and bad shot selection sunk his offensive efficiency as he spent the entire first half playing behind the arc, before finally making plays at the rim as the half drew to a close. With the game at seven in the fourth, Granger scored 8 of the team's next 12 including the game sealing free throws (good things happen when Granger, 11-11 on the night, gets to the line) to skip another avoidable potential OT session.
The Pacers continue to win, moving their April record to 11-1, their overall record to 41-22, and trimming the magic number for the third seed to just one. A light load for the league tonight, but a key one in regards to the top seeds, Miami currently (as of this writing) en route to topping the Bulls to pull within a game and a half of the top seed, which plays nearly as big of a role for the Pacers as does Dwight Howard's surgery.
Tomorrow night, Boston and Atlanta meet up, a Boston win clinching the third seed for the Pacers as New York travels to Cleveland. The Pacers will return to action Saturday, hosting the Philadelphia 76ers. On the night, the Bulls and Heat play host to Dallas and Washington respectively as Orlando will travel to Utah in a key game for Pacers fans. With the season winding down, every single day will provide nail biting suspense until the seeding for the Eastern Conference Playoffs finally shakes itself out.