After clinching the third seed in the Eastern Conference yesterday following Atlanta's loss to New York, the Indiana Pacers awarded themselves a luxury of resting players as the playoffs inch closer. While such an event has been commonplace in Indianapolis professional sports in recent years, it certainly hasn't been the Pacers who have been in position to rest players. So it's a little bit jarring when Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and George Hill all sit and Jeff Pendergraph and A.J. Price get penciled into the starting lineup, to enjoy a Pacers game without worrying about wins or losses that aren't in some way affected by playoff positioning (or in the recent Pacers history, lottery positioning).
Of course, it's always nice to win, especially when the Detroit Pistons sit on the other side. The Pacers led most of the way, but every time they made a push to pull away the Pistons continued to make plays to keep the game tight. While Frank Vogel more or less seemed to throw out whoever he wanted at a given time, there was a concerted effort to get the new second unit lead by Darren Collison and Paul George ample time. The time proved to be necessary given the considerable struggles Collison had, especially in the second half.
Given the kind of lighthearted sense for a lot of guys playing, notably Lance Stephenson finding the floor, Kyrylo Fesenko being really really big and making plays throughout his short tenure, David West's shooting struggles turning into a strong second half (and another 20 point night), and Pendergraph dunking out of the building, the focus has to come from the second unit when looking for tangibles in the game. There was little concern for Paul George, who stepped up when given the green light for a Granger-esque 6-15 night for 26 points, while tacking on 10 boards and 3 steals (to go along one of his trademark highlight jams) and Leandro Barbosa playing his game, while rebounding extremely well.
Actually, the rebounding was a big advantage for the blue and gold, who dominated the glass 56-42 while totaling 22 on the offensive side, helping to cloud their sub 40% shooting on the night. Aside from allowing 15 offensive rebounds, the biggest concern had to fall on Darren Collison, who just did not look comfortable in the second unit at all. DC continuously turned the ball over and shot the ball poorly. It was a curious change of pace for Collison, who appeared willing and able in the backup role Saturday against the Sixers.
Whether he was simply working himself back into game form with an off night, or a little shaken by still coming off the bench behind Price, any Pacers fan can only hope it's the former and nothing to do with the latter. Since the Pacers made efforts with the second unit to smooth out wrinkles, Collison being turned over 6 times certainly creates new wrinkles. Indiana still managed to close the game out with a big Collison rebound, so that can be chalked up in the positive category before George shrugged off a few game sealing plays in the game's waning moments.
Indiana takes the floor Wednesday for the regular season finale against Chicago. Why the schedule makers decided all of those early April games against Washington and Milwaukee were great ideas while giving Indiana a meaningless regular season finale against the Bulls in their only trip to Indianapolis (until the Eastern Conference Finals anyway, assuming the Bulls can make it) should rub fans of both teams the wrong way. Nevertheless, Pacers fans will have to take a DNP festival win as bragging rights before the second season begins.
Orlando and New York remain the two possible playoff opponents as the excruciating wait will be delayed as both teams are off tonight and will also be off tomorrow night, setting up a busy Wednesday night for Pacers fans who will be keeping a close eye on the scoreboard, as Orlando looks to clinch the sixth seed with a win against the woeful Bobcats as New York hosts the LA Clippers.