ORLANDO, FL - MAY 02: Center Roy Hibbert #55 of the Indiana Pacers drives against the Orlando Magic in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Amway Center on May 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. The Pacers defeated the Magic 97-74. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
It didn't take long for the Indiana Pacers to set the tone for Game 3 in Orlando when they jumped out to an 8-0 lead on the Magic, hitting 9 of their first 10 shots from the field to lead the game 21-10. Danny Granger started hot, hitting his first two three point attempts to tie the team total from Monday night in the first six minutes. Granger had 8 points in the quarter while George Hill added in 9 to give the Pacers the first quarter lead as they dominated the rebounding battle early.
Yet, if there's one thing this series has proven, it's that repetition is key. Indiana has started quickly in all three games, but the second unit has routinely given up the double digit lead Indiana to give Orlando fresh life. When the hot shooting turned ice cold, it was certainly no surprise they'd only put in two more points for the rest of the quarter, yet to break the Groundhog Day cycle, the bench made up for their offensive inefficiency by locking down on defense and creating turnovers to maintain the lead and even flush out for a Darren Collison (mostly) dunk to maintain a solid 9-point lead after one.
In the second, incredibly reminiscent to Game 2, Glen Davis exploded, taking complete advantage of Roy Hibbert's inability to cover the paint and get out to Davis quickly, as the second was once again the biggest quarter of the game for Orlando. It seemed nothing the Pacers could do was enough to slow down Davis, who dropped 16 in the quarter, with almost every point coming on a deep 18-footer.
The Pacers were able to avoid a complete collapse in the second quarter by responding to Davis's offense by getting timely buckets on offense. In addition to actually scoring points, the Pacers were able to shut down the Magic from the three point arc in the second quarter. The team's defensive effort in the second quarter wasn't great, made more glaring for Davis's huge quarter, but keeping the Magic away from the three point arc is huge. For a team that struggles to score, they've needed big stretches from guys like Davis to even keep pace with the Pacers when the blue and gold don't go on long stretches of offensive futility.
Indiana warded off Davis to hold a 44-38 halftime lead, their first halftime lead in the series, before a 6-0 stretch to open the third put them up 12. Davis dropped in 6 early in the third to keep the Magic within striking distance, but Roy Hibbert finally got his offensive game rolling, leading a 13-3 run that put the Pacers up 21 points, dropping 12 of hit 18 points in the quarter that once again put the Pacers in complete control.
Once in the fourth, Granger and Leandro Barbosa pushed the lead to 25 before Ryan Anderson hit his first basket of the game minutes into the fourth quarter, a three Granger responded to on the next Pacers possession to give him a playoff career high 26 points. Indiana rolled through the rest of the quarter as Collison continued to help the second unit offense and Lance Stephenson apparently still hasn't cooled off from his 22-point explosion against Chicago in the regular season finale.
The Pacers' 97-74 victory was the largest postseason margin since their series clinching victory in Game 7 against Boston in 2005. It was, like a lot of things in this series, pretty repetitive regarding how all three games have played out in portions. A hard fought first half allowed the Pacers to open up a big lead in the third quarter before maintaining their success onward to a victory. The win puts Indiana up 2-1 in the series, wrestling the home court advantage back from the Magic.
Of course, with the way the Pacers are clicking, it'd be ideal if it weren't an advantage they'd need to take advantage of. Indiana really needed to do two things tonight to ensure a victory: limit the Magic's effectiveness from range while keeping them off the offensive glass. Orlando was just 5-15 (the 15 attempts more impressive than the five makes) as the Magic picked up only five offensive boards.
Indiana dominated the rebounding battle, using that to run all over Orlando with an 18-0 fast break advantage. The Pacers committed 17 turnovers, an understated epidemic given the way the Pacers played overall, but it allowed Orlando to outscore Indiana 27-10 in points off turnovers. While it didn't end up being a killer, the Pacers' wasted a number of possessions on these turnovers. It may not have hurt them tonight, but they can ill afford to continue that kind of play moving forward.
- David West was truly the team's unsung hero tonight. After torching the Magic in the first two games for 18.5 points, Orlando was hellbent on limiting his touches, limiting him to 4 points and 9 boards. While Orlando was keyed in on West, double teaming him as soon as he received the ball, West's awareness allowed the Pacers to continue to roll, giving guys great looks, and even helping Hibbert put up his 18 points.
- Speaking of Hibbert, the Glen Davis matchup continues to be a real struggle for him on the defensive end. Fortunately, Roy went into Hungry Hungry mode in the third quarter to roll over the Magic frontline, grabbing an 18 and 10 double double with three extra blocks to give him a slight 2 block edge over Andrew Bynum for the time being. The case can be made the Indiana is more effective in this series without Hibbert, after all, it was his exit that finally got the Pacers in their groove, but a lot of Roy's offensive struggles came on some generally uncharacteristic misses. He may continue to be a moderate liability away from the rim (despite playing extremely well defensively at the rim), but if he can hit his shots, there's no reason to get too anxious about moving him out of the lineup.
- Danny Granger dropped a playoff career high 26 points tonight, while getting 9 boards, 3 assists, and 2 steals. The three assists came early to help give Indiana their hot start. The hot start was largely fueled by Granger's hot shooting. Danny got his 26 on 16 shots while hitting five three pointers. It was kind of hard to see Granger's value to the team given the lopsided score in the second half, but he was absolutely going tonight, what could be a great sign if he gets back into his April form moving forward.
- Paul George had a quiet 12 and 7. While he didn't shoot too great from the floor, he made his living at the free throw line, attacking the rim and really playing the X-factor for the Pacers. Unfortunately, another three misses from range drops George to 0-8 on the series from three point range. Whatever his struggles from range, it'll be a key component assuming the Pacers can keep winning and move on to the next round.
- George Hill is pretty awesome. Even though the second unit isn't better for him leaving, the hot starts that he's a big part of make it really hard to hate. Hill added in 15 points, his nine in the first helping to spur the first quarter lead the Magic were never able to fully erase. Meanwhile, with pressure to pick up Hill's slack scoring in the second unit, Darren Collison looked comfortable tonight when looking for his shot, going 5-10 for 10 points. With the inconsistency plaguing Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough, it's imperative for Collison to play the scoring guard more than he has to this point. Tonight was a good step forward for DC.
As mentioned, Indiana now leads the best of seven series 2-1. While it feels really good now, it takes one game for the Magic to even the series and make it more of a fight than the last two games suggests it needs to be. Given two days off, the Magic will not doubt continue to adjust to the Pacers attacks; for Indiana, it's about continuing to do what they did tonight limiting the advantages Orlando has. Glen Davis can't beat the Pacers on his own, but the Magic three point shooting can if the Pacers let off even for a moment.
Game 4 will be Saturday at 2 p.m. EST in Orlando on ESPN. There's a world of difference in this series between 3-1 and 2-2, so it's important for Indiana to not give the Magic any shot or feelings of hope, so enjoy the win and prepare to cheer on the blue and gold Saturday as they attempt to take complete control of the series.