After back-to-back bad losses to the Lakers and Jazz, the Pacers looked painfully overmatched and mired on the road to nowhere in the NBA Eastern Conference. Jim O'Brien had seen enough and decided it was time for a change. So, after tinkering with the lineup and seeing vast improvement against the Suns, O'B committed to giving his version of 'small ball' a chance to thrive.
Despite several nagging injuries, all players were available for Saturday night's game at Sacramento. To go small, Kareem Rush started at shooting guard, moving Mike Dunleavy to small forward and Danny Granger to power forward. The Jeff Foster/Troy Murphy power forward combo was moved to bench support.
For one night, the plan worked like a charm. The first half was especially incredible as the Pacers came out pushing the pace and really causing problems on the defensive end. Yeah, I said defensive end. The Kings had several turnovers, but give the Pacers credit for making them uncomfortable. There were several tipped passes and a Pacer team that has always looked a step slow, was suddenly able to matchup. Really, the only size issue is at power forward, but Granger is really quick for the position.
At the offensive end, having Granger can cause problems if his shot is going because he can easliy drive by any power forward if they're forced to come out and defend him on the perimeter.
All of these variables played out well against the Kings. The Pacers scored 65 first half points and held on down the stretch to win, 111-105.
It was quite enjoyable seeing the Pacers close out a game down the stretch. The Kings worked their way to within two points inside two minutes to go. Jermaine O'Neal made two clutch free throws, and then Danny Granger sealed the win with a big 3-ball with 18 seconds to go. Nice work, Danny! Other observations:
- Travis Diener has been called on to make this work with point guard support off the bench. I don't know where it has been all yeat, and at this point I don't care, but Diener has looked like the type of player we dreamed he MAY be prior to the season. With the opportunity in front of him, Diener had to rub some dirt on a bad ankle to play against the Kings. He only pumped in a career-high 19 points, hitting 5 of 7 3-balls. In fact, Diener played the bulk of the second half for Jamaal Tinsley.
- Mike Dunleavy didn't appear to have any problems finding shots after sliding up to small forward, finishing with 23 points. No he has to prepare for a rude welcome tonight at Golden State. No matter how many boos rain down on Dun tonight, there's no denying he's proven he can play at a high level in the NBA this year.
- With the new playing rotation, Marquis Daniels is freed from the bulk of his backup PG duties. At times he seemed liberated to be able to freelance a little more on both ends of the floor. Quisy had an eye-popping dunk, following up a Dunleavy miss by catching the carom well above the rim and throwing it down in one motion. WOW!
- Jamaal Tinsley didn't play much in the second half and only took two shots for the whole game. Tins was dinged up coming into the game, so with Diener playing so well, O'B just kept Tinsley on the bench in the second half. It was nice to see the Pacers forced to find some scoring options in crunch time without Tins on the floor. Also, nice that they found those options and they delivered.
- This was far from the foul fest we've been used to seeing from the Pacers. In fact, they broke their string of losing the free throw differential. Actually, they tied the Kings in free throws made (24), but the Pacers went to the line 29 times to the Kings 24.
- Jeff Foster seemed to be the odd man out as Troy Murphy and Shawne Williams played most of the backup 4/5 minutes. This worked fine against the Kings lineup, but I'm sure there will be matchups down the road that will require Foster's defensive presence.