For the Indiana Pacers, it was a step forward after a lot of steps back late. It was weathering a furious Orlando Magic comeback, making that play they couldn't make in Game 1, avoiding losing a game they had in control, and heading back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse up 3-1. There are certainly a lot of negatives that can be taken from how the Pacers played down the stretch, but at the same time, there are a lot of positives, and it's a whole lot easier to look at negative things when you're enjoying a win.
The Pacers had done a tremendous job dictating the pace of the game out of the gate in this series, making Orlando's 5-0 start a big step forward for Orlando, who had fallen behind in double digits in the first quarter every game in the series. The quick Magic start was aided by poor ball control by the Pacers, who stumbled into turnover after turnover. The Pacers shot the ball extremely well early despite lackadaisical play from the starters, but the turnovers helped the poor shooting Magic in staying in the game. Indiana ran off a 10-0 run with the second unit finally playing a key role to give the Pacers a lead at the end of the first.
Leandro Barbosa and Darren Collison led the way in the second to push Indiana's lead to 11 points in an eight and a half minute FG drought from the Magic. Orlando stayed in the game by living at the line, reaching the bonus two minutes into the second. The Magic used it to score over half of their points in the quarter from the charity stripe, using it to hold tough with the Pacers, closing the double figure lead to two at halftime. Indiana continued their third quarter domination, on the shoulders of David West, Danny Granger, and Roy Hibbert, who scored 25 of the team's 27 third quarter points, while getting great point guard play from Collison.
West carried the load late in the third quarter for the Pacers in helping them close out the quarter up 12 points. The second unit behind Collison helped push the lead to 19 points with 8:14 left in the game when the game suddenly took a massive sea change. The Magic, who had struggled to find offense the entire series, surged behind a 14-0 run to over the next four minutes to cut the game to 5. The concern wasn't so much the Magic scoring at will, but how easily they were getting their shots; on layups and short jumpers, creating a frustrating situation for the Pacers.
George Hill, who had heavily struggled to that point, scored 5 quick points with an extra two from Granger to help push the lead back to 8 points, before the Magic came back again, scoring 8 points to tie the game up. J.J. Redick, Glen Davis, and Jason Richardson were everywhere for Orlando late, helping to tie the game up at 89. With the ball out of a timeout, the Pacers stumbled to a poor Hill three pointer that drew backboard, giving Orlando a final opportunity that Jameer Nelson left short, drawing the two teams into overtime with Orlando's livelihood almost entirely on the line.
The Pacers entered the extra period 4-2, and things looked on the up and up when David West dominated his way to some tough shots as the Pacers scored the first six points of the extra period. Orlando refused to go away as Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson scored six points, fouling out Roy Hibbert in the process, knotting the game up again at 95. George Hill went to task, hitting a pair of huge free throws as he and Glen Davis went back and forth, a late Nelson foul with two seconds left putting Hill at the line.
Hill would calmly drill both, a sure handed sign from a player who recently gave a game away from the line, showing that not only was he ready for the moment, but the Pacers were. Two seconds left, the blue and gold showcased beautiful inbound defense, locking and switching on defenders with precision, forcing a time out. Orlando managed to get the ball in on the second chance, as Paul George blanketed Davis as his game typing jumper fell short, giving Indiana the win, and more importantly, the 3-1 series lead.
There was certainly a lot to take from this game to be unhappy about. The starters looked a step slower than the Magic to start the game, the defensive struggles in the fourth quarter, the sloppy ball movement, the team's inability to not foul (whether that could be attributed to officiating or not, Indiana failed to adjust). Certainly, Indiana's preference to hero ball and one on one play when the Magic began to storm back is nothing new, but remains a problem.
Orlando reached 11 offensive boards, but the Pacers did manage to limit their effectiveness on second chance opportunities, but continuing to give up more possessions to your opponent is a concern no matter the game. In the end, there was a lot to be concerned about, but just as much to be pleased about. Indiana continues to close out close games and win ugly even if they have no business being in an ugly, close game.
Certainly, everyone knows that kind of play won't cut it against Miami, but at the same time, everyone needs to know that Orlando put it all out on the floor tonight. They knew in their minds it would be next to impossible to climb out of a 1-3 hole, and they played like it was their final game of the year. National media and even casual onlookers won't see the resiliency of the Magic, only the one player they're without, but it's important to not lose sight of situations. Game 3 was what every Pacers fan wants to see from their team, but realistically, it's not going to happen every night, on the road, with the other team knowing they have to win.
- There was a point tonight when David West was heat checking and hitting everything that it was hard to not take a step back and really take note of how lucky this team is to have a player of West's caliber and leadership. It's so easy watching West in a game where he scored 26 points, grabbed 12 boards, and carried the Pacers on his back for stretches, and completely understand why Ray Allen was so upset at West not choosing the Celtics. West is absolutely a difference maker and it's impossible to see Indiana in the same position they are today without him.
- Darren Collison came off the bench in a big way today, leading the Pacers as their primary point guard option for three and a half quarters. There were a lot of struggles with George Hill, and DC's high quality point guard play (resulting in 11 points, 9 assists, 0 turnovers in just 18 minutes), made a huge difference for the blue and gold. Not only that, but watch him defensively in this series. It may surprise you.
- George Hill may have struggled, but it was his key play in the final period and overtime that led the Pacers to grab their win. Playoff experience is coming up big for the Pacers, and Hill's experience shined. Not only did he step up and coolly drop in four free throws (for a total of 12 backpacks, I might add) in the extra period, scoring the final six points for Indiana (finding Granger wide open for another two) but it was his play that helped salvage their fourth quarter collapse with five of the team's final seven points.
- Danny Granger was understated tonight, quietly putting in 21 points and 7 boards, getting his shot inside. Danny was 9-20 overall, but 7-12 inside the arc. His two three pointers were big, but Granger was prone to a couple of really bad three point shots he automatically jacked up after grabbing an offensive board. The three point shooting of the Pacers is still a concern as it could be a series swinger in the next round if they can close out Orlando, but they're certainly not shy about working through it, given the looks Orlando is willing to give them. Granger left the game momentarily with a knee sprain, but returned and looked to be in fine shape.
- Roy Hibbert had another double double (14 and 11) with three blocks. Foul issues put him on the bench for the final moments of the game, but he played well when he was given opportunities on both sides. Meanwhile, Paul George continues to struggle, going 1-7 for 2 points. He has been going to work in other areas, however, grabbing 9 boards and helping cover on Glen Davis's final shot, but continues to play too actively on defense, going for fakes and overcompensating for his man when he gets lost on defense. The concern with George does come down to his three point shooting. He still has yet to hit a three pointer in this series despite some of the looks he has gotten, especially tonight. For George, it's about simply continuing to work. Indiana is winning in spite of his shooting problems, meaning he can be a huge asset if he can break out of it.
- The second unit as a whole deserves a lot of credit for their play in tonight's game. They brought the energy the starting lineup didn't seem to have in the first half, and gave the blue and gold a lot of quality minutes. Leandro Barbosa hit some big shots in the second quarter despite slipping and sliding his way on defense the entire end of the game, Lou Amundson had what was shaping up to his best game in a long time before he was hampered with foul trouble, and Tyler Hansbrough made some key plays in keeping shots alive for the Pacers to go alongside Darren Collison's big game. There isn't much to really say about the bench as a whole when it comes to how they've played lately, but this is the kind of depth Indiana needs if they hope to keep winning this postseason.
So exhale! Does it feel good? Indiana is now up 3-1 on the Orlando Magic, and will have the opportunity to close out the series this Tuesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. After getting a chance to step onto the national stage, the Pacers will slink back to their NBA TV/FS Indiana home for Tuesday's game, which tips off at 7 p.m. Grab tickets and get down to see your blue and gold!
In the meantime, enjoy the win while getting ready for tomorrow's tip between the Heat and Knicks, as the Heat look to close out their season in four games. The Pacers don't want to drag out this series any longer if the Heat can sweep New York, making a solid showing Tuesday important as Indiana hopes to close out their first postseason series win since 2005.