Feel free to get excited about the Indiana Pacers again.
After looking great in three wins against three "yeah, but.." opponents, the Pacers proved Saturday night that they can play well against the league's elite, which they did in beating the Boston Celtics, 113-104.
The Pacers weathered a tough first half which saw the home team shooting well and going blow-for-blow with the C's only to be down nine at the half.
The Celtics were pounding the Pacers in the paint, getting a lot of easy shots and offensive rebounds for even more easy shots. Meanwhile the Pacers were living and dying on the perimeter, so it just took a brief dry spell before the Celtics were able to extend the lead at the half.
The storyline changed dramatically in the second half as the Pacers defense tightened up and several players came up with big offensive plays. After winning the third quarter 32-18, the Pacers had all of the momentum and appeared in control of the game.
But the Celtics wouldn't go quietly so it figured to be a game that went down to the final possession. But instead the Pacers kept up the pressure at both ends of the floor and the C's had nothing left in the tank. The back-to-back games seemed to take its toll on the older legs trying to mount the comeback for the Pacers and all of their contested shots seemed to come up short.
Dahntay Jones and Danny Granger provided the necessary offense, while the Pacers also benefited from strong "little things" efforts by Solomon Jones and Brandon Rush. Not only did Rush chase Ray Allen around all night, he also crashed the glass, provided a couple of help-side blocks and hit a pair of threes that made everyone in the Fieldhouse think that this win just might happen.
One sequence in particular stands out as the telling moment of the game where the Pacers seized the opportunity and took control of the eventual W.
The Pacers held a three point lead (98-95) with 6:02 left in the game after Paul Pierce completed a three-point play at the line. Dahntay Jones was then fouled early in the Pacers' possession and makes two free throws (100-95).
Pierce then missed a 3-ball and Rush flew in to grab the long rebound, outlet to Granger, push up the right side to Dahntay who immediately fires a pass to an open Roy Hibbert who beat everyone in green down court for a dunk (102-95).
After a phantom trip, Ray Allen went to the line and made 1 of 2 free throws (considering it's Ray Allen, that's ball don't lie worthy) to make it 102-96.
The Pacers used some clock on their next possession but eventually Dahntay found Rush in the corner who immediately fired it back out to Granger on the wing for a 3-ball with four seconds on the shot clock (105-96). That bucket would end up being all the points the Pacers would need and the roar of the crowd at the time showed they sensed it. even though there was just under five minutes left to play.
Ray Allen then came off a double screen by Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins at the top of the key and then tried to feed an open Perkins rolling to the hoop. Hibbert had to leave Perk to hedge out on Allen, but both Earl Watson and Brandon Rush rotated quickly and Rush was able to bat the pass down to create a turnover.
At the other end Dahntay drove in the lane and found Hibbert 15-feet out on the baseline. When Roy knocked down the shot, Pacers were up double-digits (107-96), the crowd was going nuts and Doc Rivers had to call a timeout.
Now there was still, 4:20 left in the game so the Pacers just had to hang on from there, which they did by continuing to pressure the Celtics and limiting them to one shot. It was truly a fantastic team win with contributions coming from several players.
Now, about those players:
- Let's start with the All-Star. Danny Granger came out firing with that look in his eye. He was amped and fully engaged for the challenge to playing the Celtics. The threes were flowing (6-9) but he also pitched in some other goodies to go along with his 29 points. Three steals and big block of a Rajon Rondo layup offer an indication of his defensive dedication. He also collected four assists and six rebounds.
- Dahntay Jones had monstrous second half. When it was winning time, Dahntay showed up big time. Not only did he stand up to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett when they were getting into him, he attacked right back getting to the line 15 times for an efficient 25 points. Wow! D.Jones has played huge so far this year.
- Solo Jones deserves mention for helping change the tone of the second half. Yes, he fouled out and didn't play a ton of minutes, but he hit a couple of mid-range shots and held his own in the middle. Would've been interesting to see how long JOB would've left him in, had Solo not fouled out.
- I've already touched on the solid outing for Brandon Rush. This is the type of game I think Rush and provide consistently in a valuable role for the Pacers. It's not a lead role, not one the relies on his offense, but instead has him filling the gaps at both ends. He seemed to be around every loose ball and rebound in the second half. The two threes were a bonus, even without those he would've made an impact.
- T.J. Ford was able to loosen up the back enough to play 17 minutes off the bench. Just another little boost the team needed to make this win happen. Ford had a couple of nice picks on defense that led to easy buckets, well not all of the buckets were easy. After pushing a ball out in front of him on one play, he was knocked off balance and nearly bear crawled half the way to the hoop on all fours continuing to push the ball with him before he was able to gather himself and finish the play.
- Tyler Hansbrough played about 14 minutes and did some good things matched up against bigger players in Rasheed Wallace and Sheldon Williams. He also had a couple of shots stuffed by the Celtic bigs, including one by Williams that was smothered and led to an oop dunk at the other end for Williams.
- Speaking of Sheldon Williams, there was a point in the game where he was dominating the actions. Big Baby meet Wally Pipp. Williams is strong as an ox in the middle and showed some offensive acumen.
- Earl Watson contributed 31 solid-as-a-rock minutes for the Pacers in a starting role. 12 points, 7 assists and ZERO turnovers. Steady, reliable point guard play. Embrace it.
- The Pacers are 4-3 meaning they are over .500 for the first time since they were 4-3 last year. Things went south last year when the team starting following up big wins with poor outings against lesser teams. Well, we have a chance to see how this team might be different this week with back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday against the New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks.