You gotta believe, people. You gotta believe.
The Indiana Pacers earned an improbable win Tuesday night after Troy Murphy's tip bobbled around the rim and dropped through the net as the final buzzer sounded for a crazy 118-117 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.
This game was wild throughout and appeared to be going the Lakers' way after both teams traded tons of buckets through nearly three quarters. But then things started to change.
Trevor Ariza was like Plastic Man off the bench for the Lakers picking the Pacers' pockets on the perimeter a few times in the third quarter. Ariza's defensive effort triggered a 17-0 run after Pacers had taken an 86-84 lead with 2:28 left in the third quarter. In the blink of an eye the Lakers were up 101-86 and the third quarter was over. Oh, and Kobe was on the bench for most of that run.
The air appeared out of the Pacers' sails to start the fourth quarter. I admit, my mind started thinking about Boston and I had to wonder if the players' minds did as well.
In fact, in hindsight I think the Lakers' explosion to end the third took the wind out of their sails, as they probably figured they would cruise home with the victory as they have all year. This Pacers' team never gives in, though, and they scrapped back early in the fourth, cutting the 15-point deficit to 6 with 8:30 minutes.
Roy Hibbert had two solid defensive possessions in a row, stuffing Kobe Bryant on one drive and drawing a charge against Vlad Radmanovic on the next. The Pacers had three straight possessions with a chance to cut the six point lead but couldn't get a good look. After Pau Gasol hit a tightly contested shot on the baseline over two Pacers, it appeared, again, that the Lakers would take control.
But the Pacers hung around and after Danny Granger scored five straight points the lead was down to four with 3:30 left in the game. While the Pacers kept grinding at both ends they struggled to get the lead down to one possession.
Then Granger hit another 3-ball and suddenly the lead was down to one with 1:42 left. Wait a minute. A defensive stop gave the Pacers the ball again and after Rasho Nesterovic missed a 20-footer, the Pacers crashed the offensive boards, kept the ball alive and eventually Quisy was fouled, hit two free throws and the Pacers were up 116-115 with 1:15 to go.
Then...Kobe. 117-116 with 58.4 seconds to go.
In need of an answer, the Pacers were puzzled looking for a decent shot. Ariza blanketed Granger and the Pacers were forced into a T.J. Ford desperation shot on the baseline that was blocked and hit the side of the backboard. There was some confusion about if it was out of bounds or not and with time ticking away, the Lakers secured possession of the ball with 34 seconds to go.
The Lakers had to shoot and Kobe rose up from 20 feet to extend the lead. But he missed. Kobe missed.
The Pacers had the ball with 12.8 seconds left and a chance for the last shot and the...win.
Once again the Pacers struggled mightily to move the ball for a final shot, but suddenly Quisy cut to the hoop and had the ball with three Lakers converging. His reverse flip didn't have a chance, but Murph extended his reach as far as possible and put enough fingers on the ball to convert the magic tip.
I keep looking at the box score because I still can't believe the Pacers pulled off this win. But the Pacers believe it and that's all that matters.
Plenty of thoughts on this one:
- The Pacers gave up 117 points but with the exception of a few stretches, their defense was pretty darn good. The fourth quarter speaks for itself as they held the Lakers to 16 points, but throughout the game in the half court, the Lakers made a lot of contested shots.
- The Pacers relied on a full team effort for all 48 minutes. Between early foul trouble and Jeff Foster sitting out, the bench was key. Stephen Graham and Josh McRoberts answered the call and played some great minutes. McRoberts really brought a lot of energy to pester the Laker bigs while he was on the floor.
- Danny Granger should draw some confidence from his finish. He won't have a tougher defender than Trevor Ariza hounding him, yet he was still able to find a way to produce down the stretch. He made free throws and then hit a couple of big threes in the fourth and finished with 32 points.
- Troy Murphy had another monster double-double going for 16 and 17. He's on an incredible run of production and deserves every bit of praise for scrapping his way to that tip against longer Laker arms at the hoop.
- T.J. Ford had one of his better games despite some first half foul trouble. His 21 points and 8 assists were almost as big as his 3 steals and great defensive effort down the stretch.
- Speaking of fouls, the Pacers had a huge negative FT differential as the Lakers shots 45 FTs compared to 21 for the Pacers. Fortunately, the Lakers missed 12 of those attempts. In the second half, Pau Gasol was missing free throws like it was the Finals.
- Kobe Bryant didn't disappoint the locals, converting a backboard pass to himself for a bucket and also converting a nice bucket near the end of the half for his 22,000th point. Wow!
- Have to give some love to Marquis Daniels for another incredible, all-around effort. He manned up Kobe whenever the two were on the court and had to wait out early foul trouble because when in doubt, Kobe will always get the call over Quisy. No problem because Daniels just keeps playing and tonight hit some key free throws down the stretch.
- The turnovers weren't high in number but they were critical because the Lakers could flip them into points so quickly. The Lakers offer a miniscule margin of error for the Pacers so every little error is magnified. Fortunately, the Pacers were able to overcome their late third quarter meltdown.
- If the Lakers win the title, Trevor Ariza will play the role James Posey contributed for the Celtic's last year. He brings a ton of game off the bench and makes their defense go when he's in there. Almost isn't fair having Ariza and Odom coming off the bench with all of that length and ability.
Speaking of the Celtics, the Pacers are headed to Boston to take on the champs tomorrow night. I'm sure the Pacers believe they have another big W in them. Do you?