Stephen Graham was mixin' it up and gettin' it done all night.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)
The Indiana Pacers halted a three game losing streak with a spirited effort to stun the Toronto Raptors and leave Canada with a 122-111 win.
The Pacers were without Danny Granger, Shawne Williams, Jermaine O'Neal, and Jamaal Tinsley, but were able to go with what they had and turn in a great performance on the road. Yes, Mike Dunleavy tied his career high with 36 points and Kareem Rush was big putting up 23 points and 9 rebounds. Sure, Troy Murphy pitched in an efficient 18 points and Travis Diener weathered a poor shooting night to score 10 points, drop 10 assists and only cough up 1 turnover in 42 minutes.
We've seen these guys put up similar numbers in losses, though. Something was different happened tonight. There was a little more juice heading into the fourth quarter. The double-digit lead would not melt away on this night. So, what was the difference?
Stephen Graham played! Forced into the rotation with Shawne and Danny out, Graham played 21 beautiful minutes and didn't disappoint. Please indulge me while I go overboard discussing what Graham brought to the court.
For one, Stephen is active at both ends. He has a bounce in his game, can go up strong on the glass, run the floor, and finish plays at the hoop. He did all of that tonight. Don't get me wrong, Stephen didn't take over the game, that honor goes to Dunleavy. But, Stephen exceeded his role playing with the second unit.
Graham finished with 16 points and 6 rebounds in 21 minutes. In the first half he had a sweet steal and take to finish for two at the other end. In the second half, he scrapped for an offensive rebound, went up strong for the score and the foul and completed the 3-point play at the line making one of the seven free throws he drained on the night.
Those were obvious plays, but there was a more subtle play that really stuck out to me. Early in the fourth quarter, the Pacers are up 9 and trying to keep the Raps at bay. Marquis Daniels rebounds a TJ Ford miss at the rim and outlets to Diener an the left wing. Four Raptors are ahead of all five Pacers in transition D. Stephen Graham starts sprinting up the right side, passing one of the four Raps and forcing him to chase Graham and drawing the attention of another defender near the hoop. Stephen continued to run through and clear out to the left side, which leaves Troy Murphy open on the right wing. Diener hits Murphy, forcing another defender to close out on Murph. Now, Quisy comes in trailing the play wide open at the top of the key. Murph hits Quisy and no one is there to rotate leaving a wide open lane and easy finish at the rim for Quisy. Beautiful.
Small things add up, and if Graham hadn't pushed the action by sprinting up court, the play would've been bogged down and the Pacers would have had to run a set play. Okay, I'll stop with the Graham love for now, but let's hope O'B offers Stephen some more meaningful minutes even when Shawne Williams returns.
Other quick thoughts:
- I don't mean to diminish Dunleavy's night, just couldn't pass up the chance to bask in Graham's contributions. Dun was HUGE! 24 second half points? 6 3-balls? Big time effort. Several nice finishes at the hoop and he even drew a few foul calls. Definitely the player of the game.
- Kareem Rush started and came out firing to set the tone. His 10 first quarter points provided a nice jump start.
- I thought Andrea Bargnani was a draft bust. Dude was money tonight with 27 points and 9 boards.
- Troy Murphy had a strong first half, agressively attacking the Raptor bigs. In fact, it went both ways with Bargnani and Bosh (who left early with an injury) attacking Murph. Obviously, neither side was too imposing defensively.
- The Pacers avoided the common melt down, although it didn't look good in the third quarter. After an 8-0 run put the Pacers up 16, the Raptors quickly threw a 15-0 run at the Pacers to close within one. That was as close as the Raptors would get the rest of the way.