The excuses were mounting for a bad loss but the Indiana Pacers found big contributions on their bench, stuck with it for all 48 minutes and escaped with a win over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, 107-99.
Early foul trouble for Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert, along with early flu trouble for Troy Murphy, force Jim O'Brien to use all 12 11 players. Maceo Baston and Josh McRoberts left the end of the bench for their first significant minutes of the season and helped the Pacers keep fighting after the Thunder took an early 15-point lead.
McRoberts started the second half and went right to work forcing two turnovers and blocking a shot that lead to seven points for the Pacers. His effort energized his teammates and the Fieldhouse crowd in the third quarter. This was a huge effort for McRoberts, proving JOB can rely on him to show up prepared and be ready to play every night.
On the TV broadcast, McRoberts earned player of the game honors which was nice, but let's get something straight, T.J. Ford was THE player of the game after making several key plays in the waning minutes to close out the game for the Pacers.
Over the final 2:13, Ford assisted on layups for Marquis Daniels and Jeff Foster, hit an open 3-ball to push the lead to six with 1:14 left, made a floater in the lane and then two free throws. So, T.J. accounted for the Pacers' final 11 points to put the game away. I'm in such a good mood, I'm not even going to bring up the memories of Jermaine O'Neal's play down the stretch of close games.
You can complain about the poor play early in the game and other stretches in the second half. Go ahead and gripe about giving up 19 offensive rebounds or missing fourth quarter free throws. All legit issues that need work.
Me? I'm celebrating this W, warts and all. I've seen far too many games like this end up as a loss over the past two years.
Nope, winning a game against a team you should beat when you play like you should lose is big for the Pacers. Adversity impacts all 30 NBA teams and the Pacers margin for error is too slim to count Ws regardless of where the opponent sits in the standings.
Grinding for 48 minutes. Finding a hero (tonight, T.J.) to close it out. Using all 12 11. The flu. The foul trouble. Yep, not playing well yet overcoming the adversity to find a way to win should make all Pacer fans smile tonight.
- Kevin Durant pumped in 37 points, scoring from all over the place. He did hoist 27 shots so he was pretty much the OKC offense. A few times Durant was matched up with T.J. Ford which was kind of funny, although I think I recall cursing at the time. Funny in hindsight after a W.
- Danny Granger was saddled with foul trouble tonight and just couldn't get it going. A pair of offensive fouls killed any momentum he was trying to build up in his game and proved he still has work to do on earning the All-Star treatment. He did finish with 20 points and made some big plays in the fourth. In fact, the team played well when he was on the court. He just couldn't stay on the court for long. The fouls also kept him from being able to devote many minutes to trying to slow down Durant.
- Jeff Foster had the Pacers' first 8 and finished with 15 points and 4 blocks on the night. Can't say I'm real thrilled with all of the offense that went through Foster, especially in the fourth quarter. But, again, I'm not complaining tonight.
- Roy Hibbert flashed some nifty hooks in the post but also latched onto a few fouls, prompting the McRoberts era to begin.
- T.J. Ford was huge late, but don't sleep on his overall game. It was huge. 24 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and only 2 turnovers in almost 40 minutes of playing time. Monster game.