Exhale and soak it in for a moment. The Indiana Pacers won. There was a time tonight when it didn't look likely, but in the end, the scoreboard rewards the Pacers a Game 2 victory to knot the best of seven series at 1-1. For the Pacers, it was all about playing better than they played Saturday, when they did nothing but disappoint in nearly all facets. They came out with the same intensity they showed at the beginning of Game 1, as David West led the team to an 18-7 advantage, putting the team in prime position to respond to Saturday's utter disappointment with a big showcase win.
Unfortunately, Game 2 mirrored Game 1 far too much, because when the bench came in for the starters, the same problem arose: no leadership, no focus, no offense, no defense, and not a single rebound as the Magic used it to their advantage, taking an 18-6 run to claim the lead early in the second quarter. The Pacers had absolutely no rhythm in the second quarter even when the starters and it came through full force as Orlando outplayed and outhustled Indiana to every rebound.
The Magic ran their offensive rebounding up to 12 by the time the first half closed, with the Pacers mercifully only down 2 points despite the feeling of getting run out of the gym by a team that was just shooting 31.5%, but scoring half of their halftime total from second chance opportunities. It seemed that for whatever reason, this rinse and repeat formula that had dominated Game 1 seemed bound to repeat itself ad nauseum for the remainder of the series.
Orlando came out strong in the third quarter while the Pacers continued to look for a breakthrough. Three pointer after three pointer came up short for the blue and gold before Danny Granger got one to fall. It's rare to see one shot change the entire complexion of the game, but you could sense the relief just lift from the Pacers shoulders as the Granger three tied the game at 52 a piece. George Hill hit the next four points; suddenly it was the Pacers who were more active and engaged, grabbing offensive rebounds themselves, the relief being enough to roll off a dominating 21-3 run.
Indiana got big production from Hill who made a big turnaround from Game 1 and Tyler Hansbrough, who didn't fill up the stat sheet, but played like he was Tyler Hansbrough on the Orlando front line, likely still a shadow in the back of Glen Davis's mind. The Pacers opened up a 15-point lead at the end of the third quarter, and finally, after six quarters of lukewarm and mostly pitiful play, the Indiana Pacers got rolling.
Paul George helped the Pacers in the fourth quarter as they went out and made plays. They performed well when they went small with West and Hansbrough, they rotated and were active on defense to limit Orlando's three point ability while also shutting them down on the offensive glass, holding them to just one board. The Magic were led by Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick in the fourth, but every push Orlando made, Indiana was right there with a response.
Notable from the game was how similar Orlando played in Game 2, showing the Pacers what they need to do in order to win: simply player better than they did Game 1. The abysmal free throw shooting turned into 25-28 tonight. The 34.9% shooting jumped to 43% tonight. Remove the unbelievably ice cold 2-20 from range, the Pacers shot 54% inside the arc, outscoring Orlando 50-28 in the paint and 22-2 in fast break points.
It was a huge step forward for the Pacers, who really needed a moment to just come to them so they could step back and say, "Yeah, we got here because we are that good." It felt like, as the Pacers continued to clank three after three, if they could just get one to go in, the entire game might turn around. It's hard to combat the Magic when you can't at least hit some three pointers. The Danny Granger three was nothing if not a sigh of relief; and Indiana took it and ran.
Frank Vogel deserves some credit for not shifting his entire lineup in the second half, disrupting the good will the starters had. Even though Tyler Hansbrough came in the game for a foul hampered Roy Hibbert, it turned out to be the spark the Pacers needed. It came down to playing smaller, forcing Orlando to deal with Hansbrough and West, not forcing the issue on Lou Amundson or Darren Collison for the sake of forcing the issue.
- David West was the leader the Pacers needed tonight. In addition to his surge offensively, he simply went to work, at points directing the ball movement of the younger guys to get them better looks. West led the team (with Granger and Hill) with 18 points, grabbing 11 boards, while notching 4 of the team's 9 assists. West's leadership is shining through and the Pacers are feeding off of it. As Hill said after the game, "We are riding the coattails of David West right now and with his help and everybody else's, we'll be all right."
- George Hill not only had kind words for David West, but also had a big game himself, surviving more of Jameer Nelson's attacks, but getting 12 of his 18 in the third quarter to help the blue and gold build their lead. He hit one of the team's two three pointers, it coming off a missed West free throw that Granger rebounded, sending it out to Hill, who gave the Pacers a big four-point play.
- Danny Granger shot the ball poorly outside while trying to get a rhythm going (1-10), but did well inside the arc (6-11). Granger was in or around a lot of big plays for the Pacers, especially in the second half, be it his one three pointer, a big three point play, or some great and timely offensive rebounds to give just that little extra push.
- Paul George had a quiet 17, going 7-10 (7-8 inside three point range), getting 8 boards, and grabbing a pair of steals. The Pacers really showcased their depth of weapons tonight with four players getting 17-18 points and George was just the extra cog tonight the Pacers needed. With all of the struggles in the second quarter, George helped to keep the Magic lead reasonable, and settled into some free throw attempts with a three point play to boot while helping to shut down Jason Richardson.
- Tyler Hansbrough was the non-stat hustle guy in the second half, and you could tell him getting beaten time and time again by Glen Davis in the first half weighed on him as would go on to lead the team in Tylers while taking Davis completely out of the game in the second half. As always, it's easy to look at Hansbrough and think he's an easy guy to replace, but tonight is proof that he really isn't. He may not play to this level all the time, but when he does, it wins you games.
- Leandro Barbosa was another Pacer who had nothing from range, but was incredibly effective when he played inside the three point arc. He with George helped keep the game within reach in the second quarter, but his third quarter circus shot was a thing of beauty, sending Bankers Life Fieldhouse into an uproar, reaching 106 db. Fans who may have come out to Game 1 & 2 with curiosity no doubt wondered what the excitement was in those first six quarters, but the fans have been extremely good here in the postseason. With some help from Pat McAfee for helping fans into the arena, they were able to catch a glimpse of what makes this team so special and fun to watch.
- Roy Hibbert didn't spin quite the defensive masterpiece he had on Saturday, but he still made his effort known in one of the few areas the Pacers have really been at an advantage with their size; grabbing 13 boards in a short 23 minute stint. Foul trouble sent Roy to the bench early in the second half, but it provided Vogel with a fresh take: the success of the small ball lineup against the undersized Magic front line. As great as it would be to see Hibbert dominate the game, the Pacers simply haven't been able to find him, and they matched up a lot better without him in the game. It's certainly no knock on Roy, but if it's something that works, it may have to be a direction worth going.
- The woes of the second unit in the first half was minimized by Vogel's substitution pattern in the second half. The all-at-once substitutions hasn't worked in either game, but slowly inserting guys so there isn't an immediate need for them to make plays off the bench salvages more arguments about whether or not the team is better with George Hill in the starting lineup that would've risen had the Pacers not finally gotten their wheels turning.
- In regards to length, quite possibly the biggest advantage to the Pacers has been in jump balls. It seems an extra-ordinate amount of jump balls have been whistled in this series, a testament to the hustle of both teams. The good news? The Pacers have come out winners of all but one jump ball in both games, which has helped Indiana to gain extra possessions or save current ones.
It was hard to do anything but release a big sigh of relief as the clock hit 0:00 with the Pacers 93-78 winners. The unfortunate outcome of Game 1 needed to be completely behind Indiana, and with the way they won and did it convincingly, they appear to have done just that. Indiana will travel to Orlando to play Games 3 & 4 with the first of the two taking place Wednesday night. Indiana may not be in a must-win situation for Game 3, but they still need to take care of business and wrestle home court back from the Magic.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat topped the New York Knicks again for a 104-94 win to take a 2-0 advantage in that series. Amar'e Stoudemire allegedly lacerated his left hand after punching the glass area of a fire extinguisher case, a curiously short tempered move that could put his status for the rest of the series in doubt.
The last thing the Pacers should want is to be in a long series with Orlando as the Heat watch, but without Stoudemire, it could be the situation the Pacers find themselves in. While splitting in Orlando will give Indiana home court, the injury does make Games 3 & 4 that much more important to grabbing both wins, to help Indiana take complete control of the series to avoid a return trip to Orlando, instead taking their talents 235 miles south to Miami in a new series. But the Magic have to be thinking the same thing, making Game 3 a potential series swinger for the winner.