The Indiana Pacers came out fresh and ready to attack the Atlanta Hawks from the opening tip Tuesday night. By being the aggressor most of the night, the Pacers were able to take an early lead and hold it throughout the game to seal the 113-96 win.
T.J. Ford set the tempo from the opening tip, literally, as he scored on a little runner at the hoop to open the game. The offense was pushing the pace, moving the ball, getting good looks near the hoop. Jim O'Brien stayed away from small ball tonight and his big fellas made him look like a genius. Rasho Nesterovic, Jeff Foster and Troy Murphy put up a huge combined effort.
Danny Granger came out real aggressive in the first quarter. After missing a game and then struggling in the next two games, Granger was rested and ready to go and it showed. He attacked the hoop from the get go and was real active all over the court including a couple of nasty blocks of Hawk layup attempts.
Danny played the role of team leader starting big and finishing strong. His 34 points was a season best and included 10 points scored over the final five minutes to help put the game on ice. Real efficient efffort, too, making 13 of 18 FGAs (4-5 from 3 land) along with all 4 free throws.
If you're like me, you may be asking where this effort from Danny was during the last two games. Well, Danny was coming off a little nagger of an injury and had to play back-to-back games. A superstar level player can bring a consistent effort every night, whether he's battling through injury or fatigue.
Maybe Granger is at the point in his evolution as an NBA star that he still needs a little rest to be effective. If he's a little nicked or tired he's merely a good, solid player instead of a carry-the-team type of player. There are plenty of great players in the NBA that fall into this category, so this is an area of development to keep an eye on.
But enough about Danny, this was a great team victory that deserves several plaudit filled bullets, so let's get to it:
- Rasho Nesterovic had his best game as a Pacer to date. His feathery touch and all-around game was on display all night as Rasho finished with 21 points, 7 rebound, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. He even had a little runner from the right side that evoked memories of Rik Smits. In his post-game comments, JOB mentioned that Larry Bird stopped by his office right after the game to say, How smart is Rasho? Everyone is happy tonight.
- Jeff Foster combined with Rasho to give the Pacers a dominating performance from the center position. Foster finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds but his night was highlighted by a Reggie-esque 3-ball at the buzzer to end the first quarter. Turned out to be a good omen for the rest of the night.
- Marquis Daniels quietly played a huge role in the win by giving up some offense to focus on defending Joe Johnson. While Johnson finished with 25 points, he only scored 5 points during the second and third quarters with Quisy spending the bulk of the time guarding Johnson. JJ got it going early in the fourth with Quisy on the bench, but the damage was done. I'd love to see Daniels' role evolve into a defensive stopper with minimal shot attempts on offense. He can pick his spots and be effective on offense, but providing a Bruce Bowen type of impact would serve the Pacers well.
- I can't believe I've made it this far without mentioning Troy Murphy. Murph was monstrous on the glass. After the game, Danny Granger mentioned that Murph grabbed 1000 rebounds. Close, but not quite. He only had 19 boards but combined with his 10 points it made for his 5th and most impressive double-double of the year. Murph was also great in the half court offense, keeping the ball moving and setting up easy buckets. He finished with 4 assists but had a few "hockey" assists as well.
- The Pacers caught a big break when menacing power forward, Al Horford tweaked an ankle, left the game and never returned. That forced the Hawks out of any small-ball options and made life much easier on Troy Murphy. Fortunately, he took advantage.
- The Pacers cut down on their turnovers with 14 but that's still not good enough. Far too many wasted possessions, especially early in the fourth when the game was still in the balance. Fortunately, the Blue and Gold shot 55% from the floor, including 8 of 13 3-balls.
- Late in the broadcast, Chris Denari was talking up Mike Dunleavy's workout earlier in the day. Apparently it was the second day in a row of hard workouts for Dun and he looked pretty good. At one point in the workout, Dun made 28 of 30 3-balls from the corner with good lift in his legs on the jumpers.
- On the rookie watch, Roy Hibbert did not play a minute. I don't think he's buried just because of the foul issues, but his minutes may be limited for awhile. I think the DNP tonight was more a result of Foster and Nesterovic being so effective. There was no need to take them out. Also, Brandon Rush played about 16 minutes, made his only 3-ball attempt and finished with 9 points. He had some real good defensive possessions and other where he looked like a rookie figuring out where to go and arriving a step late. No complaints tonight, though.