Is it really over?
The game, the losing streak, the late-game collapses, the excess turnovers and defensive lapses. Well, for one night anyway it appears the answer to all of the above is YES.
I feel like something is missing without the late game drama of a lost lead or attempted comeback. Tonight it was all fun and games for the Pacers as they ended their six game losing streak by beating the Washington Wizards, 118-98.
This was a solid team effort as the Pacers took advantage of a short-handed Wizards team that was left gooey soft in the front court. As it is, the Wiz don't rely on their front court for big production, instead leaning on Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison to score in bunches. The two stars did their part, each dropping in 26 points, but the Pacers scored at the rim all night and when shots weren't falling they took over on the glass to the tune of 23 offensive rebounds.
The game started to look promising in the second quarter as the bench along with Marquis Daniels started making a difference on defense. Jarrett Jack and Brandon Rush were active, disrupting the Wiz with their effort at the defensive end. Later in the second Troy Murphy hit the offensive glass and the Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take a 62-48 lead.
Two minutes into the third quarter, the Pacers were cruising with a 15-point lead. But the layups ceased and the jumpers started missing while Jamison was throwing in all kinds of beautiful junk. Jamison's teammates followed his lead and with 2:20 left in the third, Darius Songalia completed the Wizard's comeback and tied the game.
The teams swapped buckets again, but after the Wiz tied it at 83 with 55 seconds left in the third, the Pacers closed the quarter with a 4-0 run and then extended the run to 11-0 to again take control of the game early in the fourth quarter.
So how did the Pacers suddenly stop the bleeding and seize the lead again?
Easy, Jim O'Brien went with a small lineup that was giving him the best defense the team has seen in what seems like several weeks. Jack, Quisy, Granger, Rush and Foster worked like crazy at both ends of the court. Along with the defensive effort, this group had plenty of firepower left over for the offensive end. Later in the quarter, T.J. Ford came in for Rush to help close out the W. That's just what the Pacers did, continuing to extend their effort through the final buzzer when everyone could exhale and savor a W. Finally.
Here are a few other items of interest:
- Jarrett Jack was named player of the game and his second half effort made that a great choice. The D.C. native appeared right at home when the Pacers needed him to come up big. His perimeter defense was strong and he pushed the pace without racing out of control. He also had his Bob Sanders game going, punishing anyone who tried to take a hit from him in the lane.
- Brandon Rush and Jeff Foster were also huge off the bench. With Roy Hibbert and Rasho Nesterovic drawing fouls, JOB went with Foster and he delivered with seven of his 11 rebounds on the offensive glass.
- Rush appears to be learning what JOB expects from him on defense. The effort was there as the feet were moving, the hands were active and he found ways to score in the flow of the offense. The 3-ball stroke wasn't working for Rush as he missed four from behind the arc, but he made three buckets by stepping inside the arc with a dribble and pull-up jumper in sweet rhythm. Nice to see him adjust to what was working on this night.
- The negative of the night was Roy Hibbert's non-descript return to his hometown and the arena he played in during his college career at Georgetown. Hibbert started the game but was saddled with three fouls within the first six minutes and didn't factor in much from that point. After picking up another foul early in the third quarter, his time was limited from there to the final minute of garbage time. Fortunately, Rasho Nesterovic came in and gave the Pacers and offensive boost in the arm with 12 points. But he too had trouble avoiding the whistle.
- Lest anyone think I'm taking them for granted, Danny Granger and Marquis Daniels played some of their best basketball in the second half, spearheading the defensive effort that would limit the Wizards to 15 fourth quarter points. Quisy had plenty of patented buckets from every angle around the rim. Offensively, Danny kept grinding all night, made all ten of his free throws and finished with 27 points.
- The Pacers shot 47% from the field and made only four of 17 3-ball attempts. But for a game played at a pretty hectic pace, the Pacers took good care of the ball, only turning it over ten times. Combine that with the 55-41 rebounding advantage and that's a lot of extra possessions the Pacers had to build their lead.
- A final note on Granger and T.J. Ford with regard to their role in trying to move the Pacers in the right direction. Stacy Paetz showed a clip of T.J. and Danny engaged in a serious discussion alone on the bench after the game in Milwaukee. Their teammates were in the locker room but T.J. appeared to be pumping Danny up and letting him know it was up to the two of them to lead the team to better results. When the two finished and walked off the court, Granger had a resolve in his eyes which I saw tonight in the fourth quarter. Time to bring that resolve every night.