Taking into account the Indiana Pacers were short three starters for tonight's game, with Lance Stephenson and George Hill joining David West on the inactive list, a six-point win over the Atlanta Hawks looks great. It just happened to look less so when the Pacers nearly blew the entirety of a 28-point lead in the fourth quarter to the end of Atlanta's bench, committing 10 turnovers in the quarter, capping the victory on the most wide-eyed nightmare shot taken by a Pacer this season.
The path to Indiana's up and down, short-handed, horror story win was led early by Roy Hibbert, who helped control the game before a Kyle Korver four-point play gave the Hawks a four point edge near the end of the quarter. But when Orlando Johnson followed it up with a four-point play of his own, it was off to the races for him and the Pacers, who pushed the tie game to 20 in the second quarter with Johnson and Jeff Pendergraph combining for 27 points in the first half.
In the third quarter, Indiana pushed the 15-point halftime lead to 28 late in the third, leading Larry Drew to bench every rotation he had in the fourth quarter, as a Hawks squad with some semblance of energy jumped all over Indiana, forcing turnover after turnover in the fourth, and cutting the lead to 10 just five minutes into the quarter. Atlanta, led by former Butler standout Shelvin Mack, would trim the lead all the way down to four with 1:07 remaining.
After another of Indiana's countless fourth quarter bricks, John Jenkins rebounded the ball and began to push the ball forward. In switching hands, D.J. Augustin forced the ball loose, gained possession, and with 37 seconds remaining, threw it to a wide open Gerald Green in the corner, who let a three pointer fly to the singular disapproval of the entire Pacers nation.
But it was a fitting conclusion on a night that Indiana needed their bench players to make up for the loss of three starters that it would go in. Frank Vogel would smile after the game, saying, "It's not a bad shot if it goes in," in recalling the three pointer. Despite a fourth quarter that was either that bad or simply a mean regression to the mean following a really surprising first three quarters, the Pacers managed to make the hustle plays necessary to put the game away in the final minute. It didn't end up end up being as pretty as it was in the second quarter, but it allowed the Pacers to move a half game up on the idle Knicks for second in the East.
Six Pacers reached double figures on the night. Roy Hibbert had a 17 & 13 double double, paving the way early for Indiana, coming up with three blocks, including one late on Ivan Johnson. Paul George struggled a little more, coming up with 13, frustrations boiling over for him a bit late as part of a six turnover night. The turnover struggles are their own issue, one that's been a part of his season, but it was a little tough watching him get taken out of the game in the fourth quarter mentally, unable to give Indiana some points they desperately needed to fend off the surging Hawks.
The real stars for Indiana tonight game in the form of Orlando Johnson and Jeff Pendergraph, who were the catalysts to Indiana's 20-point second quarter lead. Johnson had a career high 15 points and Jeff Pendergraph pitched in with 14, including another three-pointer and some trash talk with Josh Smith for good measure. Tyler Hansbrough had an effective game against Anthony Tolliver, posting a 12 point, 11 rebound double double.
Gerald Green ended up being the key late for Indiana, helping to seal the win not only with the three, but by scoring 10 of Indiana's 15 fourth quarter points as part of his 19 on the night, shooting 6-10 from the floor. Three of the other five came from D.J. Augustin, who despite his own turnover issues with six, did have five assists and two steals to help, including one of each on the Green three to put the game away.
With some potentially good news about players returning to the lineup, the Pacers will tip off a five game stretch with Western Conference teams, the first four out West, beginning with the Houston Rockets on Wednesday. Indiana's recent struggles against quality teams, especially on the road, will be put to the test in these next five games, and a winning stretch will put them in position to make a run into the playoffs on a high note.